It's been a summer of revelatory pairings. Grilled okra rubbed with sesame oil is delicious, blue cheese goes well with fudge, vodka gimlets taste better on the beach. Now here's another quirky coupling that's cause for yawping at the stars: cumin-and-clove-spiced cheese.
I'd never heard of the combination until the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board sent me some samples, a freakin' flight of cumin-clove cheeses, no less. I've always been one for whimsy, but cloves in cheese? Really? Isn't that dangerously close to a sachet? Aren't we veering into Yankee Candle territory? I was a little afraid.
A few weeks ago, I summoned the flotsam and jetsam of the cheese world (three articulate cheese lovers who appreciate irony and dairy) to a sampling party. They agreed to appear incognito; given the premise of the evening's tasting, they were hesitant to meet me unless I could guarantee total anonymity.
Turns out, clove-cumin cheese is a Dutch tradition. It has a wonderful name, Nagelkaas, which translates into "nail cheese," a reference to the cloves, which are often left whole to resemble nails pounded into the wedge. Next time you're bumming in Amsterdam, you can impress -- um -- natives by asking for this specialty cheese, invented by the Frisian people of the northeast Netherlands.
In the meantime, you can impress your friends with some domestic nagelkaas made in Wisconsin. A holiday nagelkaas party, anyone? It could be a Halloween hit if everyone wore hard hats. Better yet, save it for Thanksgiving or Christmas when you want to draw the relatives out of their Barcaloungers with a curious cheese flight. Hint: Set out some chutney and crusty bread. Then hours of gorging are possible. Stonewall Kitchen's Mango Chutney is a perfect match, as is some crisp Dutch beer.
Here are our tasting notes:
Feddost, Nordic Creamery: This American Cheese Society winner made from goat and cow milk had a lively flavor. The ground spices were well balanced, although the texture was slightly gummy and a bit grainy. One judge called it "the perfect Super Bowl snack cheese" and imagined it cubed, served alongside dark bread and thick soup.
Cumin & Clove Organic Cheddar, Cedar Grove: This was the party favorite, a bold and creamy cheese with whole cumin seeds and "a tingle of clove," as one judge observed, adding, "It grabs you by the codpiece!"
Marieka Gouda, Holland's Family Farms: Whole cloves and cumin seeds stand out in this raw milk cheese aged on pine planks. The texture is smooth, the flavor is rich and very clovey, making for a zingy, fascinating cheese. One judge suggested serving it with wassail or port after a brisk bout of caroling.