Yesterday, I tasted a cheese that doesn’t yet have a name. I was visiting Dave Eagle at his Eagle Mountain Farmhouse Cheese shop in Granbury, TX.
The cheese was one of those “experiments,” Dave said. He called over his son, Matt, who was washing the Dutch molds in which they make their Gouda and Trappist cheeses.
“Where are those basket-cheese experiments?” he asked. “Can you get one out?”
Matt went back into their aging room with its racks of wheels and its smells of ripening cheese. (“Do you smell apple?” Dave asked me later when we went inside ourselves. I did, now that he mentioned it. The smell reminded me of my great-aunt’s cider cellar when I was growing up in France and we gathered as a family for cider-bottling.)
Out came Matt with a small, palm-sized puck, rough and speckled like a mountain rock. Ridges were still visible from the basket into which the curds had been ladled and left to drain rather than being pressed, like the other cheeses, under the disk-shaped weights of the old-fashioned Dutch press that dominates one side of Dave’s cheese room. (“If you went into an old Dutch cheesemaker’s shop, you would probably see a press like this,” Dave told me.)
The flavor of this aged basket-cheese was unexpected. The interior was firm, dry and crumbly, with a yellow hue. It tasted cheddar-like. The mold on the rind, though, had a flavor that reminded me of the flavors in the bloomy rind of Camembert, sweet and nutty. It was such an unusual and intriguing combination, not quite like anything I’d tasted before. Dave and I shared another slice while I pondered this no-name creation.
Like any cheesemaker, Dave has stories about experiments—the ones, for example, that leave you with 40 pounds of “something you can never make again,” a product of whim or circumstance or forgetfulness.
Anne Jones of Latte Da Dairy told us a similar story that morning as we chatted together at her goat cheese stand at Fort Worth’s Cowtown Farmers Market. The experiment in question was a Cotswold she accidentally “aged” like an expert affineur simply by forgetting it. It was her first attempt, made with some leftover milk. Some time later, she pulled the forgotten package out of her fridge, wondering “What’s this moldy thing?” The “moldy thing” turned out to be a Cotswold whose deliciousness she’s now afraid she won’t be able to reproduce. It might be like those childhood flavors you can never recapture, she said, laughing.
The rest of my hockey-puck no-name cheese is waiting in my fridge. I will savor every bite, knowing it may go down in the annals of history as “that really good random basket-cheese experiment.” On the other hand, this is how new cheeses are born.