Greetings, friends, and welcome to another curd round-up! Lately when recommending cheeses to our guests at Bi-Rite, I’ve been a big proponent of block cheeses. This is the designation that we give to cheeses that are perhaps not as unique as, say, an artisanal UK cheddar or a farmstead California sheep’s milk tomme, but still comprise the building blocks that we use for many of our most important and comforting dishes. Block cheeses include selections such as pepper jack, orange cheddar, Havarti or Jarlsberg. They’re often overlooked because of a misconception that they’re made from inferior ingredients. Given the right dish on the right occasion, these fistfuls of creamy goodness can dazzle the taste buds.
My boyfriend is as much a fromage fan as I am, and we’re always happy with a couple of cheese toasties on our plates. But last week I wanted to make something a little different for an evening meal, something that would satisfyingly pull together all of the scraps in my fridge. A closer look revealed that I had the ingredients to create a deceptively simple masterpiece.
First up was Vella Pepper Jack, a creamy and sinfully spicy delight from Sonoma Country’s Vella Cheese Company. This cheese is studded with green and red jalapeños from Vella’s special source in New Mexico; if that secret ingredient pizazz isn’t enough to draw you in, the flavor of the cheese itself certainly does. This cheese melts like a dream and has the perfect balance of milk to spice–making it a perfect offset to the next ingredient.
Cabot Extra Sharp is one of the most fascinating block cheeses I have ever come across. It’s moist and tangy, creating that sought-after burn that sharp cheese fans love. The cheese is supplied by New England/New York cooperative Cabot, and they describe it as “sharp cheddar without the training wheels.” This is the real deal: a salty, flaky, and creamy bite that compliments any dish, but really shines when we combine it with the Pepper Jack and our last cheese.
OK, this is kind of cheating: Point Reyes Mozzarella is certainly not a block cheese. However, mozzarella still sometimes gets a bum rap as a melter without special merit. But if you know anything about us here at Bi-Rite, it’s what shout-out-loud fans we are of Point Reyes Mozzarella. It contains all the flavors of the rainbow: it is at once sweet, salty, flavorful and boisterous. It’s local, which we can’t get enough of. And it melts gorgeously, a treat for both the eye and the palate.
When I toasted these three cheeses with a healthy dollop of mustard, what emerged was a cheese toasty that left both of us dumbstruck. I highly recommend trying this recipe yourself, as well as adding and subtracting other block cheeses to the mix. Let us not treat these block cheeses as mere foundations upon which to pile the “greater” cheeses, but as beautiful notes that can be woven together to form a symphony of taste that you can really sink your teeth into.
Curds and whey,