So, this week, I was faced with a conundrum. I’m trying to lose weight and this involves a program of “clean eating.” I am committed to no – or virtually no – “white stuff” (sugar, flour, etc), processed food, empty calories and I am limiting my caloric intake. While I firmly believe that cheese in moderation is good food, it is calorie laden and hard to eat in moderation. Also, our cheese tastings generally include white stuff.
What to do? Actually, it wasn’t a lengthy internal debate. Exotic Cheese Sundays live on for three reasons: it is something my husband and I really enjoy experiencing together, I am having a blast learning about cheese, and I have spent years searching for something to write about. I don’t think a cheese blog will be my life’s literary contribution but I prefer to think of it as a springboard. In case you are curious, even though my name is Julia, I don’t have any fantasies of a cheese blog-related book or hit movie.
Tonight’s tasting featured American Grana and Beecher’s Marco Polo. We also included a fig spread, which is sold at my grocer’s cheese counter. I’ve never consider figs beyond the occasional Newton, so I would not have thought of pairing it with cheese. But, I have heard more than once that they are a smashing combination and it’s true. The fig spread was quite tasty with both of these cheeses. It was an especially good foil for the pepperiness of the Marco Polo.
Beecher’s, which produces Marco Polo, has an interesting story. Entrepreneur Kurt Beecher Dammeier named his artisanal cheese company after his great grandfather, Beecher, whom he recalls purchasing Stilton by the wheel. Located in the famed Pike’s Market in Seattle Washington, Beecher’s is dedicated to making pure, all-natural, additive-free cheese. This commitment includes the milk they use, which comes from a hormone-free herd also in Washington State. Apparently, throughout the week Big White, the dairy’s tanker truck, pulls up to unload fresh milk. The milk is so fresh, in fact, the Beecher’s website indicates that “two days ago this cheese was grass.”
Marco Polo, named after the explorer who brought pepper to Europe, is one of Beecher’s award winning cheeses. Beecher’s “takes lightly milled green and black Madagascar peppercorns and blends them with (their) creamy cheese.” When you see the volume of cracked peppercorns in this cheese, you might be put off by the anticipated bite. But do not be dissuaded. This is a flavorful but unassaulting cheese, with a wonderful texture, and it was my husband’s favorite of the evening. Try it with fruit, crackers, or fresh bread.
The American Grana is also an artisanal American cheese but its roots are in Italian Grana Padano cheese. Apparently, Grana Padano is a Parmesan that is sometimes unfavorably and unfairly compared to its bold cousin, Parmesano Reggiano (PR). My references caution against comparing the two because Grana Padano is, by design, milder than PR.
American Grana was created in Wisconsin by BelGioioso Cheeses, owned by a family of Italian cheese makers. It was developed as an American version of Grana Padano and, so far as I can tell, is an excellent representation. In fact, it won the bronze award in the 2009 World Cheese Awards.
American Grana was my favorite for the evening. It is a crumbly cheese that I found alittle nutty, with a mild piquancy. It was delicious when melted on fresh baguette and was a lovely accompaniment to fruit. It would also be wonderful grated on salads or on a pizza.
My only complaint was that the flavor and texture became unpleasant closer to the rind. It is not unusual for cheese flavor to intensify near the rind but, for this cheese, this was unacceptable to me. I know it’s not fair to compare it to PR but I can’t help it. If I am going to choose a Parmesan cheese, I am more likely to reach for Parmesano Reggiano. But if you are looking for a Parmesan without the strong bite, I recommend American Grana.
Beecher’s Marco Polo: US, cow’s milk, semi-soft
American Grana: US, cow’s milk, semi-hard