Bent River Cheese is produced in Mankato, Minnesota, using cow’s milk from small local farms. Aside from a few co-ops in Madison and Minnesota, cheese maker Keith Adams sells to just a few cheese stores. Fortunately, the Marion Street Cheese Market is one of the places you can find his cheese.
Lydia Burns, MSCM cheese monger, selected Bent River as this month’s featured cheese because it delivers something offered by few camembert-type cheeses, especially mass-produced ones: rich and variable texture made possible from living milk that has not been “stabilized.”
Stabilization is to cheese is what homogenization is to milk. It alters the milk molecule to ensure consistency in a final product that becomes, according to Burns, “a uniform paste.” Some cheese makers stabilize cheese to achieve this monotonous consistency, increase shelf-life and reduce handling costs.
Stabilized cheese cannot ripen like traditional cheese, and “ripening is what makes cheese dynamic and interesting. They change over time. Some people like them when they’re young, and chalky, but others prefer them au point, at the point at which they’re perfectly ripe.”
“The texture with Bent River is really nice,” continued Burns. “It has a fine ‘breakdown’ that I really don’t find in camemberts. Most of the pasteurized camemberts I’ve had have this kind of spongy quality; they squish but they don’t ooze.”
When this cheese gets ripe, it oozes…but not all over. One of the advantages of an artisan cheese, made using the old techniques and avoiding many of the manufacturing strategies that have to be used by larger producers, is that it’s not uniform. At the top of the wedge of Bent River cheese, there was a soft, creamy, almost liquefied cheese, but at the center there was a graininess, what Burns called a “chalkiness,” that provides pleasant variation in each bite. “I like a mixture of textures: you get a more complex eating experience that way. This cheese has all the flavors I look for in a camembert-style cheese. It’s the best pasteurized camembert I’ve had in the states.”
Burns noted that the cheese has a slight tang, but there’s a buttermilk quality that balances this acidity, making it a delicious bite of cheese, alive with flavor.
Congratulations to Marion Street Cheese Market which has just been named a 3-Star Certified Green Restaurant by the Green Restaurant Association! MSCM is the first restaurant in Oak Park to be certified as a Green Restaurant and one of only three restaurants in Chicagoland to earn 3 stars. The only others to earn this designation are Uncommon Ground and Frontera Grill. To learn more about the GRA and to see which other Chicago restaurants have been accredited as "Green", you can visit their website: www.dinegreen.com