We recently made a return trip to Fromagination in Madison, WI, to pick up selections to create a tasty winter cheese plate. Our last trip we detailed here and featured a Holland’s Family Cheese offering, Marieke Gouda. This time we picked up two varieties of sheep cheese created by Brenda Jensen at Hidden Springs Creamery – Ocooch Mountain and a Manchego-style cheese. We also picked up another Manchego-style from Emmi Roth, called GranQueso, this one a cow’s milk variety. We also picked up a favorite dry sausage from Underground Meats, their Saucisson Sec.
We’re using the term Manchego-style because Manchego, like true Champagne, is defined by the region it originated from. Here is Murray’s Cheese explanation:
Perhaps Spain’s most famous cheese, Manchego is a D.O. (Denominacion de Origen) protected cheese, meaning the traditional recipe must use 100% Manchega sheep milk. The breed has proven sturdy enough over the centuries to traverse the rocky, arid central plateau region of La Mancha – where cows just can’t hang. Made using fresh, pasteurized sheep’s milk, this Manchego develops a rich nuttiness and pleasant gaminess (think toasted almonds and broiled lamb chops) after over a year of aging. The patterned rind is a nod to the grass baskets previously used to form the cheese. Firm enough to grate for any culinary application, highlight its sharp, caramelly flavor anywhere you would use Parmigiano.
So Hidden Springs approach is fairly close to the tradition – sheep’s milk, organic farming, and old-school techniques. The flavor is grassier, more herbaceous, more “farmy” than any imported Manchego we have tried. We’ll admit to having never traveled to La Mancha to savor farmstead Manchego, but a taste of Hidden Springs definitely transports us to the hills near Westby, WI, where the sheep graze. We included the Ocooch Mountain in the tasting as way to distinguish the sheep milk effect as compared to the cow milk variety fro Emmi Roth. Ocooch is wonderful in it’s own right, like a sheep milk Parmesan, though slightly softer in texture, maybe hinting towards a Romano in texture, but many levels more interesting in flavor.
The GranQueso is fun, approachable and an interesting addition to the tasting, as the texture is very close to Hidden Springs and a traditional Manchego. According to the maker, this cheese is “rubbed with a spice blend including cinnamon and paprika to bring out a unique identity”. You get just a hint of cinnamon and paprika, so little that if you did not know they were there, the reaction upon tasting would be one of those “Hey, there is a little bit of something in the aftertaste. What is that?”. Upon hearing the spice mix, you’ll immediately say – “Yeah, that’s it.” It’s subtle but it adds a sense of sweetness to the cheese. Some preferred this to the other two, others liked the more pronounced flavors present in the sheep milk varieties.
We added Honey Crisp apples along with the Saucisson Sec to complete the plate. Quince paste is the traditional Spanish accompaniment, and we considered a number of pear or apple options. A pear butter with honey would likely have made a nice addition (or maybe a preserve made of Pear with Honey and Ginger from the aptly named Quince & Apple in Madison). Overall, a fun and enjoyable exploration of artisan foods, taking traditional European approaches and adapting them, tweaking them, making them a new example of Great Lakes Cuisine.