The Perennial Plate Visits New Leaf Market

By Daniel Klein and Mirra Fine

We love us some cheese. So imagine our delight when Cristin Burns from New Leaf Market in Tallahassee, Florida asked us to do a cheese demo along with their weekly wine tasting. And, as if things couldn't get any better, she said we could pick which cheeses to feature. To keep with the spirit of all things local, we kept our choices within the domestic category, and were given a list of wines so that we could pair accordingly.

New Leaf Market is a beautiful co-op in northern Florida that focuses heavily on community, good food and supporting local farms. So it was a treat to choose our cheeses from a vast selection of our favorites. And there was no better dairy to start with than Sweet Grass. Nestled in Thomasville, Georgia (only a couple hours from the co-op), Sweet Grass Dairy is about as local as you can get. Founder Al Wehner was one of the first dairymen in America to convert his medium-large operation to New Zealand-style intense rotational grazing. Now the operation is headed up by his daughter and son-in law (Jessica and Jeremy Little), who create cheeses with cows milk, goats milk or a combination of both. We wanted to begin our cheese tasting with a spreadable double or triple crème, so the bloomy rind, buttery, delicious Camembert style of Sweet Grass Dairy's Green Hill was a perfect place to start.

Next we moved on to a soft goats milk cheese. There are a lot of options out there, but Cypress Grove's Humboldt Fog is a little different. It is an elegant, soft, surface ripened cheese with a creamy texture and subtle tangy flavor. Each wheel has a thin layer of edible vegetable ash along its center, which some say is to create a cake-like appearance. But we think it is more to pay homage to the famous French cheese, Morbier.

The next two cheeses are two of our favorites: Cabot Clothbound Cheddar and Cowgirl Creamery Red Hawk. The first is a bandaged wrapped cheddar in the traditional English style that has been aged 10-12 months in Jasper Hill Caves in Vermont. It is incredible, nutty, sharp, subtly sweet, and always amazing. We like it so much, we have been accused of working for Cabot. We could eat it all day---and definitely have whenever we came across a wedge of this cheese along the trip. This is a cheese that most people would love, as opposed to Red Hawk, which is more for the "hard core" cheese lovers. Cowgirl Creamery out of California makes a handful of cheeses, but their Red Hawk is our favorite, as it is stinky as all get-out. Triple crème, washed rind and full flavored, the little wheels are washed with a brine solution that tints the rind a sunset red-orange. I think the smell is what scares people off, but I'm telling you, it is absolutely delicious. I can safely say I would never turn down a piece of Red Hawk.

We finished off the tasting with a blue cheese, also from California: Point Reyes Farmstead Blue. It's creamy, slightly salty, and made in one of the most beautiful areas in the US. We had the pleasure of driving through "Point Reyes country" on our trip. This cheese is called "farmstead" because the cows (whose milk is used) are actually raised on the same farm as where the cheese is made. And these lucky Holsteins graze on the sweeps of land overlooking the Tomales Bay. Just like Sweet Grass Green Hill, this cheese is 100% vegetarian. (Yes, the pasture the cows eat is vegetarian, but so is the rennet used to make the cheese. Rennet, the enzyme used to coagulate milk in cheese making, can be plant, animal or microbial based.)

Needless to say, the cheese tasting went off without a hitch. There was a great turnout (who wouldn't want to sample free wine and cheese?) and the co-op staff was welcoming, friendly (HR Manager Michele Buchanan even put us up at her house) and genuinely proud of their store's work. One of our favorite parts of visiting coops around the country is the new friends we make. And New Leaf Market was no different. Cristin Burns, our co-op host, was nice enough to invite us to her Halloween party the next night. And we were happily surprised when we showed up to see a huge spread of food featuring three of the cheeses from our tasting the day before.

Does all this talk of cheese whet your palate? If you're looking for some cheese ideas and recommendations, here are some articles to get you started. And be sure to ask the co-op staff for recommendations the next time you're in the store.