Saturday, November 26, 2011

Cowgirl Creamery's Mt. Tam

Cowgirl Creamery's signature cheese is a smooth and sexy triple-cream. With a silky texture, luxuriously rich and mild, buttery taste, Mt. Tam is surely one of America's best examples of this style of cheese. Made with organic pasteurized cow's milk from West Marin's Straus Family Dairy. By industry convention in this country (in France, it's a law), triple- cream cheeses contain at least 75 percent butterfat. A cheesemaker can't get there with whole milk alone so must enrich the milk with cream.

Cowgirl Creamery started life in Point Reyes Station 10 years ago as a fresh-cheese producer, making cottage cheese, fromage blanc and the like. Mt. Tam was its first foray into aged cheese. Cheesemakers Maureen Cunnie and Eric Patterson are still tweaking the recipe, adjusting the brining time and other factors, but handmade cheeses like Mt. Tam are never completely consistent, a quality that Patterson argues is part of their charm.

Each petite round has a thick, snow-white rind and smooth, creamy, ivory paste resembles buttercream frosting. Like Brie and other bloomy-rind cheeses, Mt. Tam ripens from the outside in, so it will be softer under the rind and perhaps a touch firm at the center. The rind's appearance can lead some consumers astray. "People cut into it thinking it's going to be oozy like a brie, and it's not supposed to be," says Patterson. "It's a firm cheese."

Ideally, Mt. Tam is 4 to 5 weeks old and perfectly ripe when it hits retail cheese counters. The flavor should be mild, milky and pleasantly salty. In a step more common to Gouda production than to triple creams, the cheesemakers wash the curds before transferring them to molds to lower the acidity and heighten the sweetness. To contrast with Mt. Tam's lush texture, try a lean sparkling wine.

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