Sampler Plate: The Cheesery to Fork

Published on: October 5th, 2017

Turn the page if you are not in the mood to have another perfectly good food ruined.

One day, an egg from a chicken raised out- doors on grass and bugs, and a yellow pear tomato from the garden that never made it back in the house changed my perspective. It is now a sad journey to the store in winter when these ingredients are called for out of season. A block of generic mozzarella kept in the back of the cheese drawer of the fridge and nibbled for a midnight snack is not a fair comparison to a ball of fresh mozzarella. It is not really even the same thing. Fresh mozzarella served at room temp, with a Cherokee Purple tomato, fresh cut basil, salt, pep- per, and a good olive oil is a beautiful thing. I walked into Cheese Importers in Longmont and asked the owner Clara about what she was excited about right now. She handed me a pouch of La Mozzarella di Bufala Campana. La Mozzarella di Bufala Campana is flown weekly from the city of Aversa in the Caserta Province of Southern Italy. Produced from the milk of the Italian Water Buffalo, this cheese must be crafted using specific techniques required by The Protection Association. Only 95 producers are given the privilege of calling their product “Mozzarella di Bufala Campana” and of using the Mozzarella di Bufala Camapana DOC (Certified Origin Brand) and DOP (Certified Provenance brand EEC) quality brands.

Photo courtesy of Longmont Cheese Sampler.

Photo courtesy of Longmont Cheese Sampler.

A cow’s milk fresh mozzarella is a nice can- vas for a wide variety of flavors – especially highlighting peak summer freshness straight from the garden. A buffalo mozzarella is richer in both enzymatic aromas released when cut and in flavor from a higher butter- fat milk. After observing the beauty of the porcelain color and taking in the scent, the light weight of the cheese and texture in the mouth take the stage; a mineral finish completes the experience. Creating a traditional caprice with this cheese would be an obvious option, but one might also consider following the current trend of trading the tomatoes for perfectly ripe seasonal and local fruit (think stone fruit or melon). If you’re look- ing for someone else to do all the work of slicing and plating you’re in luck as Saza and Pizzaria Locale work la Mozzarella di Buffala from Cheese Importers into their menus. Pizzaria Locale dresses all of their pizzas calling for mozzarella and their tomato mozzarella salad with this lovely cheese.

Cheese Importers was founded over 40 years ago by Lyman and Linda White. Their children Clara Natasha and Samm now manage the retail and wholesale parts of the operation respectively. As the name implies, the operation was originally envisioned only as a wholesale operation, but people began knocking on the door looking for a unique cheese find, so a small marketplace was carved out of the original warehouse. Twelve years ago, the decision was made to develop a dedicated retail shop and the old Longmont power plant was purchased and remodeled. Walking into this establishment is like being transported through a rabbit hole into a caricature of Europe, in the best way. You could pop in to choose one of 350 varieties of cheese out of the largest refrigerated cheese cave in Colorado, but it is worth blocking some significant time to peruse their collection of French provincial kitchen wares, cookbooks, and specialty foods. When you are ready to sit you can choose between the cafe or the bar featuring Absinth and liqueurs that have been sourced as a current passion project for Clara.

Another cheese Clara handed me was the Red River Blue by Mood Hill Dairy. The Moon Hill Dairy herd is a diverse mix of heritage breed cows known for their rich milk and their ability to thrive on grass alone. The mix includes Brown Swiss, Jersey, Guernsey, and Normandy breeds. Moon River Dairy, located in Steamboat Springs, is one of only a few diaries in the Colorado high country. Hopefully more dairies will follow their lead as our mountain valleys mimic some of the terroir of the great cheese cultures of Europe. Cattle have grazed our mountain meadows for a couple hundred years but are infrequently used as dairy breeds for their milk. Mountain herbs and grasses grow slowly in richly mineralized soils creating a feed that adds a depth of flavor that doesn’t show up in cheese produced at lower elevations, even when cows spend their whole lives on grass.

While la Mozzarella di Bufala wrecked my concept of mozzarella, the mild and complex Red River Blue was something different from what I have learned of mold ripened cheeses. The mold doesn’t out-compete the creamy ivory colored cheese. You can taste the wild herbs the cows grazed in their alpine pasture. These flavors would provide a subtle fore- shadowing if served as a first course to be fol- lowed by a wild caught rainbow trout. There is a saying that goes, “if it grows together, it goes together.” It is a special pairing of foods from the same ecosystem. The Red River Blue is also comfortable in more pampered envi- ronments, making appearances on cheese boards at Denver hotels such as the Ritz Carlton, Hotel Indigo Denver and the Hyatt Regency.

Whether settling in for an afternoon of nosh- ing and drinking or just needing to quickly pick up something to impress your friends, the Cheese Importers in Longmont will pro- vide for cheese needs you don’t know you have.

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