When you visit our Fromagerie, you'll discover why AJ's has earned the title of Best Cheese Selection from Phoenix magazine. Our unique cheese selection offers the very best of domestic and imported varieties, which includes handcrafted farmstead and artisan cheeses. Ask our cheese specialists for cooking, serving and wine pairing suggestions.
AJ's Assortment & Collection
One of the glorious cheese triumvirates that go into a traditional Swiss fondue, Appenzeller is thought to have been made since the time of Charlemagne (ninth century).
The region of Appenzell lies in eastern Switzerland, a picturesque area wedged between Lake Konstanz and the Austrian border. Appenzeller is a pressed, cooked-curd, brushed-rind cheese made in flat, round loaves that range from 12 to 16 pounds and are about three inches thick.
The newly formed wheels are washed in an herbal jelly consisting of pepper, herbs and spices, either white wine or cider, water and salt, the exact recipe of which is a closely held secret. Appenzeller is aged from three to six months, whereupon it reveals a mature and spicy character.
The natural rind should be a light to medium brown, and the interior should have a pleasing ivory to yellow color with a scattering of pea-sized holes throughout. It is relatively soft and easy to cut or shred, and has a full, buttery flavor with fruity overtones, its sharpness increasing with age. Its flavor has been compared to "hot toast spread with Marmite." It is great for cooking or as a table cheese.
Asiago has been made more or less the same way for over a thousand years in the Veneto region of northeastern Italy. Though it takes its name from the town of Asiago and the surrounding plateau, its official D.O.P. status allows the milk to be collected from the adjacent provinces of Vincenza and Trento, as well as parts of Treviso and Padua.
Mature Asiago is made from partially skimmed raw milk and can be aged anywhere from three months to a year. The youngest is called fresco, medium aged is mezzano, and cheeses aged for nine months or longer are known as vecchio.
Asiago is basically a mild cheese that is easy to slice, shave or shred, and it melts well. Older versions take on a degree of sharpness lacking in younger cheeses. Texture varies, too, according to age. When young, it has a soft, yellow paste with a sprinkling of tiny holes, growing harder in texture as it matures. When fully mature, it is like a finely aged grana-type cheese.
The colorful French 19th-century gastronome Brillat-Savarin called it the "Prince of Gruyères." Part of a trio of great cheeses from the Savoie region of eastern France that includes Reblochon and Tomme de Savoie, Beaufort is a hard, pressed-curd, cooked cheese made from the rich, raw milk of Tarine and Abondance cows.
It is very much in the style of Gruyère, made just across the border from Switzerland, in fact, but significantly larger. It is almost twice as thick as traditional Gruyère, and has a higher fat content. Beaufort has slightly concave sides and a natural brushed rind, with a lovely smooth, creamy, ivory-colored interior paste with rarely any holes.
It tastes of the mountain meadows, redolent of wildflowers, honey and hazelnuts. It is a superb melting cheese, making it a fine choice for gratins, soups and omelets, and it is delicious on its own as a table cheese. It takes its name from a small market town where the cheese was first aged and sold.
Perhaps the quintessential party cheese, Brie was one of the first specialty cheeses that helped awaken the American palate to what cheese could be. Brie is a soft-ripened, bloomy-rind cheese, a category that accounts for about a third of all cheese produced in France.
Easily one of the most famous cheeses in the world, and also one of the most imitated, production of Brie may extend back as far as the fifth century, although legend and fact may not always be the same. However, some version of it seems to have been made on farms throughout the Ile de France region during the time of Charlemagne, who was said to have been eating Brie and extolling its virtues in the eighth century.
Later on, it became an unwitting symbol of the French Revolution when it was reported to be King Louis XVI's last snack before he was arrested in an inn near Varennes. A peasant cheese at heart, one writer said, "Brie, loved by rich and poor alike, preached equality before anyone dreamed it possible." Although versions of Brie are made all over the world today, its origins are in the Ile de France, the region that includes Paris, and specifically is centered around three towns: Meaux, Coulommiers and Melun, all of which lend their names to their respective name-controlled cheeses.
The French coastal region of Normandy, with its verdant hills dotted with cows, apple trees and quaint villages, has been famous for the quality and abundance of its milk for centuries.
It is home to three of the greatest cheeses of France: Livarot, Pont-l'Eveque and the famous soft-ripened, bloomy-rind Camembert. Popular legend has it that a Marie Harel created the cheese, but documented accounts show that the cheese was being sold at markets at least a century before her.
It is likely however, that Mme. Harel refined the recipe and brought Camembert to prominence outside of Normandy. Also, her son-in-law is supposed to have presented the cheese to Napoleon III, who liked it well enough to bestow upon it the royal seal of approval, thus further establishing its reputation.
With the development of the signature wafer-thin wooden boxes in which the cheese is traditionally packaged, Camembert was able to be shipped all over France and subsequently the world. Prior to the discovery in 1910 of Penicillium candidum, the snowy white mold that is sprayed on the cheeses to begin the ripening process, Camembert cheeses were covered with blue mold.
Raw-milk versions of Camembert are still available in France, although increasingly less so; the vast majority of Camembert made and consumed -- even in France -- is pasteurized.
Cheddar (United Kingdom, specifically England)
This is surely the most imitated cheese in the world. Our own production alone would probably make that statement true. Cheddar is named for a town in Somerset that sits in the heart of Cheddar-making country. The town, famous for the Cheddar Gorge, was a frequented tourist site by people from all over the UK who came to think of the local cheese as simply "Cheddar."
Today, the name implies the technique used to make the cheese as much as its place of origin. In fact, far more generic Cheddar is made throughout the UK, the U.S. and around the world than the farmhouse, truckled and bandaged versions that the rest are based upon.
The process of "cheddaring" is one of cutting up the curds into small, pebbly pieces which are stacked and re-stacked continually, resulting in the singular texture of the cheese.
English farmhouse versions are redolent of the local flora and can stand with the greatest cheeses in the world. However, there are countless artisan versions of Cheddar made today that are excellent cheeses, vary greatly from one another, and it is still one of the most comforting and recognizable cheeses in the world.
Production of this hearty, indescribably delicious mountain cheese dates back at least to the 13th century when the dairies of the individual cheesemakers came to be known as fruitières, and the "fruit" of their labors was recognized as cheese in the vachelin gruyère style.
Comté was one of the first cheeses in France to be awarded the coveted AOC and, more recently, was bestowed with PDO certification. It is made from raw, partially skimmed milk of the Montbéliard breed of cow, and must be produced within a specified area in the Jura Mountains in the Franche-Comté region.
It is a monumental cheese, deep in flavor and extremely versatile in the kitchen and at table. Wheels of Comté, like any Gruyère, are large, weighing as much as 80 pounds. They are about four inches thick with slightly convex sides, a natural rind with a light brown pebbly surface, and the distinctive paper label repeating the Comté logo encircling the outside.
Inside, the cheese should be smooth with a yellow-ivory color and a pleasant nutty aroma. It must be aged for at least four months in special cellars, and can be aged for up to a year or more. Upon leaving the cellars, each cheese must pass inspection by a panel of judges who rate the cheese on taste, texture and appearance.
Comté tastes of fresh roasted nuts, caramel and vanilla, with even more pronounced flavors as it gains age. It melts beautifully and figures in many of the region's most cherished dishes, as well as many of our own.
This huge, elegant mountain cheese with its distinctive holes throughout is without doubt the most recognizable cheese in the world. The cherry-sized holes and sweet, nutty flavor have given rise the world over to the moniker, "Swiss cheese." Sadly, however, too many people have tasted only crude imitations that equal the original only in the size of the holes.
The cheese is named for the Emmental Valley, through which runs the great Emme River. The lush, verdant pastures and steep hills that swell up from the valley hint at the magnificent Alps only minutes away.
Every day, the rich, unpasteurized Alpine milk is taken to the many village cooperatives and transformed into a monumental cheese that is a source of great national pride, and one whose production can be traced back to the 13th century.
The famous holes, which result during the aging period from the emission of carbon dioxide by bacteria, were originally cause for concern for cheese merchants, but soon everyone was won over by the cheese's flavor and texture.
Swiss children at the time dubbed it "mouse cheese" since it appeared as if something had munched its way through the giant wheel. Emmental is made in about 450 factories throughout the canton of Bern, which may sound like a lot until you consider that the average cheesemaker turns out just one wheel per day (it takes 1,000 liters of milk to make a single wheel).
The wheels average 200 pounds and span 44 inches in diameter, easily making it the world's largest cheese. Required to age for a minimum of four months, the cheeses are frequently aged up to 15 months or more.
The sweet, nutty flavor is accompanied by a wonderful melting consistency; hence its status as the preeminent ingredient for fondue, as well as Reuben sandwiches, croque-monsieur, and of course, our own deli staple, ham & Swiss on rye. Although many excellent examples are made here, Emmental remains in the pantheon of the world's greatest foods.
The origins of Feta are obscure, but certainly this popular Mediterranean cheese has been made in Greece for more than 3,000 years. Although Feta is made throughout the Balkan region, it is most closely associated with Greek culture and cuisine where, in ancient Greek mythology, the craft of cheesemaking was referred to as "a gift of everlasting value."
Feta is a young, crumbly sheep or goat's milk cheese that is cured by pickling it in a brine solution. Traditionally, it is made in large blocks that are sliced into pieces and packed in barrels for aging. In fact, Feta means "slice" or "piece" in Greek, an unpretentious name for an unpretentious cheese.
Lately, the Greek government and Feta cheese producers have been embroiled in a debate about the origins of the cheese, and Greece's right to name-protected status. So far, the EU has granted the PDO but it is being contested by several countries where versions of Feta are also produced, often with cow's milk. Nevertheless, Feta remains a staple of the cheese department, and is at its best when accompanied by olives, nuts, bread and wine, or baked into Greek dishes such as spanakopita.
The classic Greek salad is a perfect showcase for bright, fresh flavors of the Greek islands, including peppers, celery, olives, tomatoes, lemon and olive oil, herbs and, of course, Feta.
Cradled by the Alps to the north and France to the west, Valle D'Aosta is cut off from the rest of Italy by the Gran Paradiso mountain range and borders only a small part of the northernmost part of the Piedmont. Literally "valley of Augustus" (Caesar, that is), this tiny region, more French than Italian, more Alpine than Mediterranean, is the home to name-controlled Fontina, a semi-hard cow's milk cheese named for the village of Fontinaz.
Most of the milk produced in this region, the smallest in Italy, goes to make Fontina. Fresh, whole, unpasteurized milk is partially cooked and drained, then dry-salted and aged for at least three months in cool, humid rooms.
The wheels are large, ranging anywhere from 17 to 22 pounds, but can be as big as 40 pounds. They are four inches thick and 18 inches across, and bear the official stamp that guarantees their origin and quality -- a purple circle enclosing a mountain peak, across which is written "Fontina," and underneath, "Consorzio di Produttori Fontina."
The interior has a smooth, compact texture, is straw-colored, and has a pleasant, nutty aroma. Fontina has a full, round flavor redolent of the herbs and chestnuts for which the region is famous. Although delicious on its own, Fontina excels as a cooking cheese, melting beautifully and figuring in many of the most cherished dishes of this unique mountain region.
One of the world's finest and most versatile blue cheeses, Gorgonzola is named for a town in the region of Lombardy in northern Italy near Milan where it was first made, aged, and sold.
Creamy and mildly assertive, Gorgonzola belongs to the stracchino family of cheeses, so called because they are traditionally made from the "tired" (stracco in the Lombard dialect) milk of the cows returning from their summer pasturelands in the mountains to the north.
A whole milk, uncooked cheese, the trademark green streaks of mold originally occurred naturally from the caves and cellars in which it was matured.
As with most blue cheeses today, the mold (Penicillium gorgonzola) is now commercially manufactured, added to the milk early on, and encouraged by piercing the fresh cheese with needles to allow the air to penetrate to the interior.
Traditionally, the curds from the evening milking are heated (not cooked) and left to drain and cool. The following day, the curds are placed in molds and the heated milk from the morning milking is added on top. It is this difference in temperatures that creates an ideal habitat for the formation of the signature streaks of mold.
Gorgonzola is a delicious table cheese, before or after dinner, but it also shines in the kitchen where it works wonderfully in sauces, stuffings, and dressings.
Gouda (The Netherlands)
Holland's most famous cheese is also one of the most widely produced outside of this tiny country. Along with Edam, Gouda is one of a handful of cheeses that is known even by the most tepid cheese customer, those who know little or nothing about cheese.
The importance of cheese to the economy of The Netherlands cannot be overstated. Holland was not only the first country to export cheese, it is still one of the world's largest cheese exporters, sending its products to every corner of the globe, often over the same routes upon which it first brought tea and spices from the Far East back to Europe centuries ago.
Both Gouda and Edam are named for the towns in which they were first traded, with many of the old cheese-weighing houses of the 17th and 18th century, or kaaswaag, still in use today.
Gouda is made from whole cow's milk and is a pressed, uncooked cheese with a firm, straw-colored texture inside. They can be aged anywhere from three months to three years, whereupon they take on a rich, caramel flavor.
Most of Holland's cheese production is highly mechanized, turning out tons of good, consistent, although somewhat unexciting versions of both Gouda and Edam, cheeses that were once quite distinctive, both on their own and from each other. There remains, however, a tradition of farmhouse Gouda made by hand on small family farms from unpasteurized milk, often from the milk of the farmer's own herd. These traditionally made Goudas are known as borenkaas, or "farmer's cheese" and they are only made from May through October when the cows are allowed to graze in the lush green fields that are influenced by the low-lying peat bogs.
Gouda, both factory and farmhouse versions, are great for snacking and for sandwiches; and when fully aged, are great for grating as well.
Grana Padano (Italy)
More than a thousand years ago, after reclaiming much of the swampy land in the fertile Po Valley in northern Italy, Cistercian monks developed the recipe for this hard cheese in order to preserve the milk surplus from their prolific cows.
The granular texture of this unique cheese gave rise to its name, while Padano refers to its genesis in the Po Valley. Soon, Grana Padano became very popular through the land and established itself as a major component of the local economy. Grana Padano's magnificent flavor and texture are due in large part to the quality of the milk, which in turn is attributable to the cows' consumption of rich forage and grains.
Once the milk is obtained, the cheese is made in strict adherence to traditional production methods. A consortium, established in 1954, sets rigid guidelines for the cows' treatment, the cheesemaking process and, ultimately, the inspection and certification of each wheel of Grana Padano.
Similar cheeses made outside the legally defined production area, or those that simply aren't good enough, are called plain grana. Each drum-like wheel of Grana Padano weighs approximately 80 pounds, and is about 10 inches thick and a good 15 to 16 inches across.
Authentic Grana Padano -- that is, one that has the consortium's approval -- should have three distinguishing marks stamped around the rind. The first is the four-leaf clover insignia that denotes the province (there are 27 provinces in the official production zone), the producer's registration number, and the mark of the Protected Designation of Origin.
Next, there should be the familiar lozenge-shaped brand stamped repeatedly around the rind, alternately crossed by the words "Grana" and "Padano." Finally, after the final inspections, the quality mark is added -- a lozenge with "Grana Padano" is emblazoned across the rind, flanked by the initials G.P. Grana Padano is a relatively low-fat cheese since it is made from partially skimmed milk, making it easily digestible by most people, even those who normally have trouble with milk.
It has a sweet, nutty flavor; is delicious as a table cheese; figures in countless classic Italian recipes; and is superb for grating. Although it often takes a back seat to its cousin Parmigiano-Reggiano, it shouldn't, since they both adhere to the same high standards, rigorous inspections and great taste, with Grana Padano having the added benefit of usually being much less expensive.
The skills of Swiss cheesemakers have been admired since Roman times, and their methods of production and dairy farming have remained consistent, albeit with the aid of modern equipment and facilities.
From this great tradition comes one of the world's most admired cheeses, Gruyère, a cheese that is equally at home on the table, in a classic fondue, or in a gratin. Gruyère belongs to an exclusive family of mountain cheeses from Switzerland in which the quality of the milk, the lush Alpine pastures and centuries-old tradition practically define the art of cheesemaking.
It is a pressed, cooked cheese formed into large wheels weighing as much as 85 or 90 pounds. The exterior should be a light brown, textured surface with a creamy, straw-colored interior. Unlike its Swiss compatriot Emmental, Gruyère typically is without any holes. Gruyère is aged anywhere from 4 to 10 months and sometimes longer for reserve selections.
It becomes rich and creamy when melted, which is why it is a classic component of Swiss fondue, as well as the preferred topping for French onion soup, a croque-monsieur, and any number of gratins. Gruyère, with its rich, nutty flavor, is also a superb table cheese, and is one of the great cheeses of the world.
Whether or not Manchego is Spain's greatest cheese is arguable (though it is certainly one of them), but there is little doubt that it was this unique sheep's milk cheese from the heart of the Iberian peninsula that first garnered Spain recognition and then respect from the world's cheese aficionados.
Besides being the most famous of Spain's more than 100 cheeses, Manchego is also one of the oldest. It was clearly described by Miguel de Cervantes in his immortal novel, Don Quixote de La Mancha, linking it inextricably to the land (Manchego simply means "of La Mancha").
Like any great cheese, Manchego has spawned many imitators. Even in Spain, "Manchego-style" cheeses made from ewe's milk and formed with the familiar herring-bone pattern on the sides abound. Originally, the pattern was created by the esparto grass straps used to form the fresh Manchego.
Today, plastic molds are used that are embossed with the pattern. Authentic Manchego comes only from the milk of the native Manchega sheep that thrive despite the harsh climate and Spartan terrain of the region's vast, high plateau that rises about 600 meters above sea level.
The milk must come from the adjoining provinces of Toledo, Cuenca, Ciudad Real and Albacete, all of which are in the Castille-La Mancha Autonomous Region renowned for its windmills and vast fields of saffron-bearing crocus. Artisanal Manchego is always made from unpasteurized milk, but most of the cheese today is made from milk that has been pasteurized.
The cheese must be aged a minimum of two months or as long as two years. It should have a buff-colored to brown rind, etched with the characteristic zigzag pattern. The interior ranges from ivory to golden-yellow in color, lightly acidic in taste, with a slightly piquant, nutty flavor. In Spain, it is eaten almost exclusively as a tapa, immersed in olive oil or not, sometimes accompanied by a slice of membrillo, a wonderful quince paste.
Mozzarella, whether made in Italy or in the U.S., has become one of America's favorite cheeses, and thanks to countless pizza parlors around the country, one of the most consumed.
Mozzarella belongs to a family of cheeses known variously as pasta filata, stretched-curd or spun-curd cheese (the verb filare means to spin or to stretch), using a method that goes back into antiquity.
Whether it is name-controlled mozzarella di bufala (made from the milk of water buffalo) or made from cow's milk, the process is similar. First the curds are heated in hot water or whey; then pulled, kneaded, stretched, and spun into their desired shape and singular elastic texture; and, finally, placed in brine.
Except for traditional buffalo-milk mozzarella that is air-shipped from Italy, most of the Mozzarella consumed in the U.S. is made here.
There are two types: high-moisture that is consumed within the first few days after being made; and low-moisture versions that have a much longer shelf-life. Mozzarella belongs to the same family of cheese that includes Provolone, Scamorza, Caciocavallo and Ruggasano, all from Italy; and Bulgaria's Kashkaval and Greece's Kasseri.
Provolone, the cheese that is ubiquitous in delis and sandwich shops throughout America, belongs to a family of cheeses known as pasta filata (spun or pulled curd), and is likely the most famous descendent of Caciocavallo, the oldest of its type.
Provolone begins its life much in the same way as another member of this family, Mozzarella. First the curds, made from whole cow's milk, are plunged into hot water and the whey is released. The curds are then kneaded and pulled, developing the ultimate texture and shape.
At this point, the cheesemaker rubs the surface with a brine solution and, in a technique unique to this type of cheese, binds the whole thing with rope and hangs it up to dry and mature in a temperature-controlled room.
The size of Provolone varies from little round balls (prova is a dialect word for globe or round) to huge 200-pound cylinders that look like torpedoes. Provolone originated in southern Italy, very likely either Campania or Basilicata, although today it is made all over Italy and, indeed, the United States.
To further confuse matters, the consortium that governs the making of Provolone is in Cremona in the region of Lombardy, far from its ancestral home. The cheese pairs beautifully with all kinds of cured meats, olives, peppers and pickles, and is one of the most popular sandwich cheeses anywhere.
There is an argument to be made that Parmigiano-Reggiano is the world's greatest cheese and, indeed, many people think so. Both in terms of flavor and versatility, it is a magnificent product, and when you consider that one of the world's greatest cuisines — that of Emilia-Romagna — virtually rose up around the cheese, it is a monumental achievement indeed.
With a history and tradition that goes back more than 800 years, it is also one of the oldest and most famous cheeses. On its home turf, in what is often referred to as the bread basket of Italy, it is used in soups and sauces, as a filling for stuffed pastas and various roasts, as a grating cheese over cooked food, in baking and desserts, and as a table cheese for snacking.
Parmigiano-Reggiano belongs to the "grana" family of cheeses, versions of which are made throughout northern Italy, from Lombardy to the Veneto. The term refers to the granular texture of the cheese, a texture that once pulled apart (grana should be pulled, not sliced) resembles the rough-hewn walls of a marble quarry.
The cows that give milk for Parmigiano-Reggiano feed on lush, local pasturage, producing extraordinary milk. The milk is never pasteurized, retaining its bacterial flora that adds so much to the flavor of the cheese.
Each day, from April through November, fresh, whole milk from that morning is mixed with partially skimmed milk from the previous evening's milking in huge copper vats, along with some of the fermented whey from the previous day's production. This helps initiate the fermentation process, much like a baker making sourdough bread.
Natural rennet is used to coagulate the milk, forming curds that are the beginning of the cheese. No other additives are allowed in the production except for the salt bath each wheel will swim in for a while after they are firm enough to emerge from their forms.
Each vat produces two wheels of cheese (the whey is fed to the pigs that will in turn supply prosciutto di Parma), and the entire process is done by hand in a centuries-old tradition that is handed down from cheesemaker to cheesemaker, and overseen by a powerful consortium.
The wheels, a burnished golden color, are large, weighing between 66 and 88 pounds with convex sides. The interior varies with age from soft yellow to straw-colored. Each cheese must be aged for at least 14 months and most are aged for up to two years. Its flavor also evolves as the cheese ages, from nutty, sweet tones when young, to deep, caramel-like, butterscotch and tropical fruit flavors as it ages.
Several important details can be read on the rind of each cheese, such as the certification mark showing that the cheese has been inspected by an expert as to quality and appearance. "Parmigiano-Reggiano" is printed up the sides in a pin-dot logo and repeated around the entire girth of the wheel, enabling one to know its authenticity even if the wheel has been cut into wedges.
In addition, there are markings to indicate the province in which it was made and at what time of year, and a code that can be traced back to the individual producer — all details that would be expected on such a prestigious cheese.
Pecorino refers to any one of a number of sheep's milk cheeses made in Italy (pecora means sheep), particularly in the regions of Tuscany (Pecorino Toscana), Lazio (Pecorino Romano), Sardinia (Fiore Sardo) and Sicily (Pecorino Siciliano).
One of the oldest styles of cheese in Italy, or anywhere else for that matter, it no doubt fueled the Roman legions as they marched around the known world expanding the Roman Empire's domain; and indeed, legend attributes Romulus himself as making the cheese.
Pecorinos are to southern Italy what Parmigiano-Reggiano and other grana-type cheeses are to the cooking of the north, although decidedly more assertive.
Typically, pecorino is a hard, pressed, cooked, drum-shaped cheese made from either whole or skim unpasteurized milk. They vary greatly in intensity, but generally become more piquant the further south one goes. Pecorinos on their home turf are used both for grating and for eating.
Production of name-controlled Roquefort cheese began in antiquity, perhaps as long as 2,000 years ago, and it is easily the world's most famous blue cheese.
Millions of years of shifting and collapsing mountain ranges and natural erosion have formed the famous caves at Roquefort-Sur-Soulzon where the cheese is still matured, and where it acquires its distinctive blue molding.
Legend insists that a shepherd boy in ancient times, seeking refuge in the caves, abandoned his lunch of fresh curds and coarse rye bread to pursue a passing shepherdess. Days later, when he returned to the caves, he found the cheese transformed with blue streaks running through it.
The production of Roquefort today is more sophisticated, but the procedure is really very similar. Whole, unpasteurized milk of the hearty Lacaune sheep is curdled with either lamb or calf rennet and inoculated with Penicillium roqueforti, a culture that is still derived from moldy rye bread. The curds are ladled into molds, left to finish draining, salted for a few days, and finally sent to the caves for aging.
Roquefort should have an ivory-colored interior paste with blue-green streaks that are evenly distributed throughout the cheese, fading slightly at the edge. It is a rindless cheese that is always wrapped in foil.
Roquefort is a full-flavored yet creamy cheese that is equally at home in the kitchen and at table. It is considered one of the world's great blue cheeses, often setting the standard by which others are judged.
The people of the Roncal valley have been famous for their sheep's milk cheese for centuries, so much so that they were the first to be recognized by the Spanish government with name-protected status.
Their Rasa sheep graze on the moderate slopes and open valleys of the Pyrenees Mountains on either side of the river Esca, producing rich, high-butterfat milk. Made as it has been since the 13th century, Roncal is cured for at least three months in the high mountains of the Navarre region, feeding on the cool, moist Atlantic breezes.
It is a firm, compact cheese, weighing between 5 to 7 pounds, with a smooth brownish-black rind and a yellow interior. Its mild, nutty flavor has a smooth, buttery texture that marries well with the cured and smoked meats of the region, and is also a very good grating cheese (think pecorino, but milder) for soups and pasta. Like its cousin Manchego, this is an easy-to-like cheese and makes a superb tapa all by itself.
Stilton (United Kingdom)
Like Cheddar, Stilton is named for a town in which the cheese was never made. Instead, it gained its first recognition when it was served at the Bell Inn, a coach-house in Stilton on the Great North Road, a much-traveled route through Huntingdonshire.
Today, Stilton, known as the "King of English Cheeses," is one of the world's most famous and beloved blue cheeses. Only a handful of dairies make all the world's Stilton today, using a recipe that goes back 300 years.
The rules for making Stilton require the milk to be from the local herds of cows in Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire counties in the English Midlands.
Since 1992, all Stilton is made from pasteurized milk and vegetarian rennet. Curds are cut by hand and left to drain overnight, and then cut again, salted, and placed in hoops for several days. After they are removed from their forms, they are rubbed down by hand to smooth out the creases and to seal the edges before being placed in temperature-and-humidity-controlled rooms where they are turned every day for at least three or four months.
Stilton should have a dry, brownish rind (wrapped in paper), a creamy, ivory-colored paste, and an even distribution of veins. It should be crumbly but not dry. Stilton's traditional place at the table is at the end of the meal, typically accompanied by a glass of port, fresh fruit and nuts. In this regard, it has no equal.
Name-controlled Zamorano, made only in the province of Zamora in Castile-León, is a result of the once rather nomadic sheep-herding families of the area who moved the herds around in search of better grazing lands.
Traditionally, they would make cheeses along the way, and upon returning home, some of the cheeses would be sold in the local markets while the rest would be aged in underground wine caves.
Today, about 14 families make Zamorano, which is aged a minimum of 100 days in conditions similar to those employed by their forebears. The cheese is similar in appearance to its more famous cousin Manchego, complete with the customary zigzag pattern around the sides and a wheat-ear pattern stamped on the top and bottom.
Zamorano is a delicious, nutty and slightly tangy cheese with a firm, ivory-colored paste and a brownish rind. It is made today from both raw and pasteurized milk, and stands out as a truly artisan cheese that bears the stamp of tradition.
Cheese descriptions sourced from gourmetretailer.com