You know how most people would stop traffic for a square of chocolate? Yeah, that’s not me. Cheesecake? Whatever. Cookies? Snooze. Cake? Meh.
But cheese … cue the hallelujah chorus! I adore it, crave it, even dream about it. Because I’m a forager/hunter and secure my own produce and meat, cheese is often the only food I purchase from a store.
Imagine my pleasure when the cheese shop, Cured, opened across the street from one of the restaurants where I forage. It was, to my eyes, as alluring and enchanting as an amusement park to a child. But my excitement was also tempered with a bit of trepidation. I grew up in a household where pepper jack was considered a fancy cheese. And while I’ve always sought out new cheeses, even the best I’ve tasted have been pre-wrapped in plastic. So when I first stepped into Cured, with all of its cheeses sitting out in the open like beautiful pieces of art, I was slightly intimidated.
Specialty shop expertise
Cured has been the talk of Boulder, Colo., and its many high-end food lovers since the day it opened. Because owners Coral and Will Frischkorn have set a friendly and inviting tone, Cured is a casual gathering place for people who love good food and even fledgling foodies can feel comfortable within the shop.
There are some distinct advantages to patronizing this type of store. The main upside is that you may sample any displayed cheese, so there’s no need to buy a luxury grocery item without first knowing you enjoy it. The second advantage is the expertise of the staff, who can help guide your purchase based on knowledge of who makes the cheese, its flavor and how best it’s served.
The last major plus is that you can buy any amount of cheese, even a very small chunk, as it is cut to order. Because of these things, you can buy in small quantities and taste your way through new and exciting varieties in an economical manner. After all, cheese is a concentrated food, and even a small quantity can be richly satisfying.
Learning about pairing
Cured became one of my favorite haunts because it gave me the opportunity to taste sheep cheese, learn about cheddaring and discover delightful cheeses made in my own backyard. The conversation naturally turned to pairing cheese with wild foods. Soon, I challenged Coral to come up with cheeses to complement a few of my favorite locally foraged foods. The flavor profiles she came up with can easily be adapted to work with other foods. For example, the cheese that pairs with apples would also work with other sweet-tart fruits, etc..
Here are some examples of pairings:
- Feral apples with Cabot clothbound cheddar. Here, the tangy crispness of feral apples is paired with the rich, nutty, earthy flavors of cheddar.
- Porcini mushrooms with Fruition Farms pecora. This hard sheep cheese, similar to Pecorino Romano, is salty, earthy, and has notes of hay, which makes it the perfect foil for wild mushrooms in dishes such as risotto.
- Colorado spice blend (juniper berries, blue spruce tips, sumac and wild onion) with Avalanche Cheese Co. chevre. The tang in this super-creamy goat’s milk cheese brings balance to the bold flavors of the spice blend.
Coral offered some more wisdom regarding how to pair foods with cheese. First, you can try to match similar flavors or create contrasts. A blue cheese stands up well to other strong flavors such as game meat, or it could pair equally well with something mild like a pear. Either route could serve to enhance aspects of the spotlighted food.
It’s also important to follow the seasons. Think about matching spring foods, such as tender young greens and berries, with fresh cheeses like goat chevre and farmer cheese. The bounty of summer produce can be put together with young cheeses. The rich slow-cooked foods of late fall and winter match beautifully with aged cheeses.
Foraging is seasonal and local eating at its best; it allows you to gain a deep appreciation of the flavors of your hometown. Learning to pair cheese with foraged items can be a fun way to enhance and bring out these special flavors. The guidelines here are just a jumping-off point. As with all food pairings, the most important rule is that there are no bad pairings, so long as you love how the combination tastes.
Zester Daily contributor Wendy Petty lives in the Rocky Mountains, where she is a forager, photographer and wild foods consultant. She writes about her adventures with mountain food on her blog, Hunger and Thirst.
Photos, from top:
Foraged apples with clothbound cheddar.
Wild foraged porcini risotto with pecora cheese.
Credits: Wendy Petty