a few of my favorite cheeses

Fromage, originally uploaded by asimplefarmer.

i'll be the first to admit that i definitely love certain types of cheeses above all others, so don't expect any fair rankings here. but, i do think i can give you some tips to find super high-quality cheeses (not always at super-high prices, either).

if i had to pick one milk, it would be sheepsmilk, hands down. i guess it's what's in my blood. i grew up eating sheepsmilk feta for breakfast every morning. my mom intently used to watch people make sheep's cheese in the mountaintop villages where she and her siblings spent their summers. and more recently, i spent two years eating (practically) no cheese but delicate fresh pecorini toscani.

these are my favorite sheepsmilk cheeses available here in the states:

marzolino rosso del chianti. marzolini are very special, and kind of hard to get your hands on, because they are traditionally only made in march (hence the name). these cheeses are made with 100% sheepsmilk, produced within very small geographical boundaries, and minimally aged. this one is rubbed with tomato paste (that's where the rosso part comes from), which gives it an extra little bit of sweetness.

panache d'aramits. last year, during a lovely impromptu lunch at the farm, charlene whipped out some ossau-iraty. i loved it so much that as soon as i got back to work, i called cowgirl and asked them to send some. they said that they didn't have any of that cheese, but that they'd send some panache d'aramits instead, since it's made very close by, and following the same methods. plus, it's one of the jean d'alos cheeses. it arrived, i tasted it, and never went back. the one problem with it is that it can be a bit pricey, so i decided to look for some similar cheeses without the fancy pedigree--petit agour and tomette d'helette are two good options (and probably a lot easier to track down). i just have some serious love in my heart for basque sheepsmilk cheeses. so creamy, so sweet, so melty-in-my-mouth. yum!

abbaye de belloc. ok, so sue me, it's another sheepsmilk cheese from the pyrenees. this cheese has been made in the same way for hundreds of years by the benedictine monks at the notre-dame de belloc monastery. the version at cowgirl is also a jean d'alos cheese, which makes it incomparable.

jean d'alos is an affineur, or ager, of cheeses. he is one of only seven (7!) traditional french master affineurs, and cowgirl creamery is the only american importer of his cheeses. i've had the incredible honor of meeting mr. d'alos, his wife pascale, and their daughter amandine, and i got to take a few cheese classes with them several years ago, as well. i'll continue this post later and write about what i learned (i saved my crazy type-a notes) and share some more places to buy special cheeses around here.