Friday, November 25, 2011

C Local: A Stinker That Reeks of Controversy

C Local (left) on our New York-themed cheese board

It has always been my dream to eat Thanksgiving in Manhattan so that I could prepare a fierce cheese plate for the occasion. Thankfully, the occasion came tumbling by and so I found myself at Murray’s last Tuesday, dodging raindrops to buy glorious cheese – “as whiffy and local as possible,” I entreated the cheesemongers.

And so I found my reigning loverboy, this sheep’s milk stinker washed in beer from Brooklyn Brewery. It’s creamy, it’s funky; it smells like body sweat. My friend P., a New Yuck native, called it “sneakery.”

Served with a shmear of strawberry-balsamic jam and a goblet of malty Belgian brown ale, C Local became the platform for my best bite of the weekend. Turkey is lovely, cranberry sauce, too, but nothing beats a beefcake slathered with preserves. Let your mind wander.

Meanwhile, I’ll tell you about this controversial crescent. Back in October, The New York Times wrote about C Local and stirred up a lot of dander over the term affinage (off-ee-NAJ), the process of aging cheese. Cheese shops nowadays engage in a lot of playful tinkering with rinds, and skilled mongers trained in affinage will take in young orphan cheeses and bathe them in spirits to produce a unique specialty.

C Local is a case in point. The mongers receive wheels of a bloomy sheep's milk cheese, called Kinderhook Creek, from Old Chatham Sheepherding Co., and instead of selling them right away, the folks at Murray’s wash these wheels in Brooklyn Brewery's Local 2. By tending to the cheese, they produce a very different product – a one-of-kind wheel that’s sold in limited quantity, often at a premium. 

For someone like me, this is a treat. I love the cheeses produced by Old Chatham, and the beer wash morphs these gentle bloomies into something cantankerous and slightly crusty – just to my liking. 

In the Times article, cheese god Steven Jenkins (author of Cheese Primer) ranted against this practice, attacking cheesemongers for ramping up costs to the consumer and creating a class war among cheese buyers. His response lit up Twitter for several days.

While I am all for equity, I don’t understand Jenkins’ crowbar tongue on the subject of affinage. Ripening cheese requires skill in the same way that, say, refinishing a table requires skill. If I buy a refinished table, I expect to pay the person who slathered on the varnish and attended to final touches.

All this to say, C Local was the highlight of Thanksgiving. Seek it out. And ask for Syd, cheesemongress extraordinaire. She helped me pick out the stunning accoutrements for my New York Locavore Cheesegiving. The day's bounty is detailed below.

New York Locavore Cheese Plate

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