And Now, for the Stinky Cheese Lovers Among Us, Have I Got a Cheese For You!
This review comes with a warning: If you think that Gorgonzola smells bad or draw the cheese line firmly at cheddar, this post is not for you. If, however, you love stinky cheese, if Limburger is one of your favorite cheeses, and if the cheese gets better for you as it ages, you might want to get to know Red Hawk.
We have a new cheese purveyor at my farmers market in Ardmore, PA. Di Bruno Bros. took over my friend Cheeseman Jack's booth and 4 or 5 more. I miss Jack and his rough demeanor and incredible knowledge of cheese, but Di Bruno Bros. brought with them a much bigger repertoire of cured meats, exotic gourmet items, and many great cheeses.
I asked the stinky cheese man (just kidding) for a washed rind cheese with lots of aroma like Epoisse, and he came up with this Red Hawk, and boy, was he right.
Red Hawk cheese is made by the chefs-turned-cheesemakers of Cowgirl Creamery, Sue Conley and Peggy Smith. They first made it by mistake when they were making a batch of their popular Mt. Tam cheese. One of the chefs noticed that the rind wasn't developing correctly, so she tried washing it off. She then set it aside and forgot about it.
Quick Look at Red Hawk Cheese
Region: California Country: United States
Milk Type: Cow
Milk Treatment: Pasteurized
Shape: Small disc
Size(s): 4 inches diameter, 2 inches high
Weight: 12 oz
Now For Some Detail
And when she remembered it again a few weeks later, it had developed a distinctive reddish-orange rind. After they tasted it, they realized they were onto something and perfected the technique. It's a triple cream, washed rind cheese (as is Limberger if that gives you an idea of its pungency).
It is made with organic cow's milk, which I like, especially as a father, because it is pesticide-free. That is, if I could get my kids to eat it. They both are adventurous eaters but won't go near the stuff and leave the room if they smell it.
It reminds me of a comedy routine:
- "This cheese is so stinky..."
- "How stinky is it?"
- "It's so stinky that it makes Limburger smell like roses."
- "It's so stinky that I can still smell it on my hands hours after I've eaten it."
- "It's so stinky that the dog won't have anything to do with it."
I learned that I am a bad father when I store my beloved stinky cheeses in the refrigerator. One of my girls will open the fridge door to grab a snack, only to reel back in horror at the smell. Even double-wrapped in plastic wrap, I will admit that there is a lingering...earthy...aroma about the refrigerator!
And if I leave it out to let it come to room temperature so I can enjoy some? Forget it. The smell becomes more pronounced as the cheese tempers, and I am left alone in the house while the girls seek refuge outside.
Now, before I completely scare you away, hear me out. Red Hawk might not be for the faint of heart, but if you like "stinky" cheeses--and this might be the stinkiest cheese I've ever eaten--there are several reasons why you should try it.
Red Hawk won Best in Show at the American Cheese Society Annual Conference 2003. It also came in second Best in Show and won a Gold Ribbon at the conference in 2009.
All the milk to make the cheese comes from Straus Family Dairy in Marin County, California. How many single dairy-source cheeses do you know? Exactly. I like knowing where they get their organic milk and how the cows are treated. In this case, I think it is true: Happy cows come from California.
The cheese comes in 10 oz rounds: enough for you and nine of your closest friends to try it, but not so much that you can't figure out what to do with the leftovers.
Red Hawk is aged for four weeks before being wrapped up and sold, but the cheese will continue to age in your refrigerator, so if you have the inclination and your family will let you taste a bit every few days to see how the flavor, texture, and aroma change over time.
It pairs equally well with bold red wines, sweet dessert wines, and hearty stouts. Now, your beer-loving and wine-loving friends can come to enjoy the same cheese tasting!
As a triple-cream cheese, the cheesemaker adds extra cream to the milk in the mix. This adds to the butterfat, adding to the creamy, silky, smooth mouthfeel. This is a truly decadent cheese.
So, if you have stuck with me this far, let me tell you what to look for when you buy it, because I know you want to try it.
- Be sure to ask your cheese guy to give you a sample before buying. It will come straight out of the refrigerator, so remember that the aroma and the flavor will be muted.
- Smell it. It should be pungent and earthy, but if it smells like ammonia, that's a sure sign that it is over the hill.
- It is a bit pricey--mine was over $30/pound--so don't buy more than what you can eat in a couple of weeks
- My wife and I served it with some apple slices and French bread. This was a nice pairing because the tart apples seemed to mellow out the cheese a bit.
- Let it come to room temperature before eating so the flavor and aroma can bloom.
Do you like stinky cheeses?
What is your favorite?
Are your kids afraid of it like mine are?
Have you ever tasted Red Hawk?
I'd love to hear from you, so feel free to leave a comment.