People have been asking for smoked cheeses left and right over the past week or so. I’m not sure what’s driving this interest in the headier flavor-set, but I suspect the recent cold Seattle weather has something to do with it. (It snowed here on Monday, and is supposed to again on Thursday. Nothing stuck, nor is it likely to.) I guess if you can’t be sitting by the fireplace, you want to eat something that tastes like one.
The shop I work in doesn’t really specialize in smoked cheeses. We have a few, to be sure.
Smoked cheddars are the largest variety, with Ford Farm’s Smoked Dorset Red and Carr Valley’s Applewood Smoked Cheddar.
Smoked Dorset Red, which is really more of a deep orange in color than red, is smoked over oak chips. This cheese, which is made on the English Channel coast, has a definite smoked-salmon flavor to it. In all honesty, it smells much smokier than it actually tastes—which can be a good thing as you aren’t only tasting smoke when you bite into this cheese.
The Applewood Smoked Cheddar is a white cheddar that is smoked with apple wood (duh). This Wisconsin cheese is rubbed all over the outside with a nice, red layer of paprika. It’s a pretty cheese, and it’s a crowd-pleaser with its smooth, creamy texture and mild flavor. People love trying it in grilled cheese sandwiches.
Then we have Idiazábal, which we often describe as being kind of like a smoked Manchego. Hailing from the Basque Country in Spain, this hard, farmhouse cheese is made with raw sheep’s milk and traditionally gets its smoky flavor by being stored near the fireplace of a chimney-less mountain hut. The cheese is very firm, and a little bit sweet with a caramelly-meaty flavor.
In the goat’s milk department, we have River’s Edge Chèvre’s Up in Smoke, a beautiful little Banon-style cheese. This petite ball of fresh chevre is smoked over maple and alder woods, then wrapped in a bourbon-misted smoked maple leaf. It’s a party cheese, because all you have to do is unwrap the leaf and lay the cheese out on it on your cheese board—presentation with flavor added! Up in Smoke is creamy, fresh, and has a hint of campfire-smokiness that is tamed by the bourbon. There’s a good balance; no one of the flavors is “too much.”
Finally, we have Rogue Creamery’s Smokey Blue, a cheese I extolled last month on the blog. Cold-smoked over hazelnut shells, this cheese is earthy and creamy, smoky and nutty all at once. It’s almost like eating the smell of cooking bacon, if you can imagine what that would be like.
So that’s five smoked cheeses. And then I saw an Austrian smoked cheese at another store, and knew we needed to bring it in. Because on top of only having five smoked cheeses, we had a grand total of zero Austrian cheeses. No brainer.
So I ordered this cheese, and it didn’t come and it didn’t come, and it didn’t come. And then, two days before Thanksgiving, it came! Like a holiday miracle.
This new smoked cheese is Waldviertler Selchkäse, and we’re all pretty stoked (har har) about it.
A semi-hard sheep’s milk cheese that is smoked over beech wood, Selchkäse tastes kind of like what you want smoked gouda to taste like but never really does. Made in the Waldviertel region of southeastern Austria by a company called Die Käsemacher (literally, “the cheesemakers”), the cheese is considered a farmhouse cheese because the sheep’s milk comes from independent farmers in the region. The cheese is creamy and pleasantly smoky, with hints of caramel and a light nuttiness.
Everyone keeps asking me how to say Selchkäse, and being the resident German, I offer my expertise. Now, I’ll temper this by saying that Austrian German (and Swiss German, too) is like a foreign language for German speakers from Germany. So my pronunciation is with a German accent, rather than a real Austrian accent.
The name, literally translated, means “smoked cheese.” Mind-blowing, isn’t it? Selchen is a low German (Austria and Bavaria) word for the verb “to smoke” (in high German, it would be räuchern), and Käse means cheese.
If you see Selchkäse, ask for a taste (or just buy some). It may well become your new favorite smoked cheese.