As much as I enjoy going south of the border to visit my family, I also love the chance to shop for U.S. artisanal cheese (typically right after a Target run). One of my long-time favourites has been a goat cheese from Cypress Grove Chevre in California called Humboldt Fog. With a loyal following in the U.S. market and no end of accolades , this cheese is truly an American classic.
Sitting on a cheeseboard, a slice of Humboldt Fog looks like a wedge of ghostly, delicate cake. A line of dark ash delineates the rind and another thin line of ash runs through the core of the cheese, representing the line of thick morning fog in Humboldt County that visually divides the Pacific Ocean from the famous redwood forests.
If the wheel is ripe (as I prefer), the paste under the exterior edge of this soft, bloomy -rind cheese will have softened to creamy indulgence. The core will be dense and tangy. At this point , the rind has developed a stronger, earthy essence, its structure barely containing the surrender of the oozing cheese within. But for a cleaner, lemony flavour, you could start your exploration with a younger version of this cheese, which has now been released in Canada (whoot!) along with several other Cypress Grove cheeses.
When Mary Keehn, founder of Cypress Grove, started making goat cheese over 30 years ago, there wasn't much domestic product on the market. Most goat cheese came from Europe and by the time it got to the United States, it was "not for the faint of heart," says Bob McCall, sales and marketing director. Ms. Keehn began commercial production in 1983, after what Mr. McCall describes as the "tipping point" for goat cheese during the local/artisanal movement that took root at the Chez Panisse Café in Berkeley, Calif. Chèvre made by pioneering U.S. goat -cheese maker Lauren Chenel was featured in the restaurant's wilted spinach salad and was an instant hit (and has stayed on the menu ever since). Ms. Keehn's goat cheeses helped further win over the palates of the American public, grabbing attention after the birth of Humboldt Fog in 1992.
What you'll notice about any of the goat cheeses from Cypress Grove is they have tang but not a harsh acidity , and their crispness is balanced with a smooth creamy texture – qualities Mr. McCall attributes to the milk used. It's high in butterfat and protein , and low in bacteria (which is what can give goat cheeses a goaty, barnyard taste).
As beloved as Humboldt Fog is in the U.S ., it was outshone in Canadian tastings at the recent Gourmet Food and Wine Expo by its sibling Truffle Tremor. Also a soft bloomy -rind cheese, Truffle Tremor is creamy, rich and savoury , and infused with earthy Black Summer truffles from Northern Italy. Skip dessert, this makes a satisfying end to any meal.
In the end, it was the chèvres I tasted that grabbed my attention. Mr. McCall emphasized that the goal at Cypress Grove is to make high -quality chèvre, avoiding the more common route of mass marketing this fresh cheese at low cost (which usually leaves me lukewarm about chèvre at best). But the zing of the lavender -and -fennel -pollen -flavoured Purple Haze woke me up to the pleasures of this fresh cheese. The herb notes were bright and lively , and the texture of the cheese was dense, rich and addictive. The Herbs de Humboldt (a tongue-in-cheek reference to the biggest economic driver in Humboldt County – marijuana) contains a hand-mixed blend of Herbs de Provence. I'm officially converted.
Next year , Cypress Grove will celebrate Humboldt Fog's 20th birthday with a "confessional" booth at January's Fancy Food Show in San Francisco where people can document their " first time with Humboldt Fog ."
If I could offer one tip for your first taste? Be patient with the cheese ; bring it to room temperature. I promise it will be very, very good.
Where these cheeses can be found:
Vancouver: Whole Foods, Bosa Foods
Ontario: Whole Foods, Sobeys
Toronto: Cheese Boutique, Summerhill Market, Leslieville Cheese Market
Waterloo, Ont.: Vincenzo's
London, Ont.: Smith Cheese, Remark
Georgetown, Ont: Mill Street Cheese Market
Editor's Note: The Mill Street Cheese Market in Georgetown. Incorrect information appeared in an earlier version of this article.
Sue Riedl blogs about cheese and other edibles at cheeseandtoast.com.