It’s that time of year when autumn falls into our food and the most unexpected delicacies start screaming “pumpkin!” while gentler voices whisper of maple, apple, or piney-fresh-campfire. (Okay, maybe that last one’s bit of an exaggeration.) I’m not against the idea of pumpkin spice (which, for the record, is much more reminiscent of the spice you flavor pumpkin pie with than the winter squash itself). It’s just that the fever pitch of this trend has turned reckless and so many products seem to be adding the flavor blend more for trendiness than for an actual elevated flavor profile.
Getting to taste new things is one of the highlights of my job, and I’ll try just about anything. But I have to admit, when I opened a delivery of Wisconsin cheeses and unpacked one labeled Cello Pumpkin Spice Fontal, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes. Although the state boasts the only master cheesemaking program in America (the program is so vigorous that students spend more time becoming masters than your average university student spends earning their Ph.D.), I figured they sold out to the seasonal peer pressure.
I cut a few slices and carefully arranged them with the other fromage on my board (because even if you’re working from home alone in your PJ’s, you deserve to enjoy your cheese in decadent and fabulous fashion). I took a nibble, waiting for that cloying flavor combination to clash with a perfectly beautiful piece of cheese.
But... wait a second. It was good. Like, really good. Fontal cheese is a nuttier, tangier cousin of Fontina. Semi-soft and creamy, its butteriness forms a soulmate connection with the blend of cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice, and honey that envelopes it. The warmth of the nutmeg and the slight tang of the nutty cheese instantly transported me to crisp autumn coziness, a place where the cheese and spice hold hands and skip with joy through the brilliant foliage. I snap out of my daydream, take another bite, and it all happens again. This is pure autumnal harmony.
Those harvest season vibes were to be expected of this cheese. But surprisingly, I got a second taste of them in another cheese, the Marieke Foenegreek Gouda. Although I’m no expert on foenegreek (or fenugreek as it’s more commonly spelled in the United States), I’ve seen it used in Indian cooking and typically associated it with a nutty, herby, or medicinal profile. Paired with good old Gouda, a reliably tasty cow’s milk cheese, the foenegreek would be mild and pleasant, I suspected—a warm-up cheese, if you will.
If I was surprised at how good the pumpkin spice cheese was, I was completely shocked at this one's flavor. When fenugreek is cooked, it develops a maple-like flavor. That, combined with the creamy, mild cheese, made me think of pancakes and bacon (and cheeeese, obviously!). With another bite, I was transported to maple sugaring season in Vermont or Canada, where I'm sitting in a forest of maples, wearing a black and red checked flannel as I breathe in the clean, cool mountain air. (Remember those old Peppermint Patty commercials where someone took a bite and "got the sensation….?” That's me with this cheese.) Needless to say, this was an unexpected delight.
Eating cheese always makes me happy, but sampling these two surprising gems left me elated. Pair them together and you've got the fall-iest, most autumnal cheese board of your dreams. You’re welcome.