Every month or so, I drop by Marion Street Cheese Market to talk to Lydia Burns about a cheese that’s caught her interest. Right now, she’s most excited about is a washed rind beauty called Hudson Red from Twin Maple in Ghent, New York.
When preparing Hudson Red, the Twin Maple cheesemakers “washes” the outer rind with a saline solution that draws out the Brevibacterium linens (B. linens) bacteria that gives the cheese its flavor. The B. linens bacteria, found in several other cheeses, is also found in human perspiration and, yes, this does have bearing on the aroma of this cheese.
Hudson Red is not what many cheese lovers would consider “stinky.” Burns described it as “accessible, with a pleasant pungency.” This is not the kind of cheese that will scare off the timid.
Hudson Red has a savory, almost beefy flavor. Washed rind cheese were popularized by Benedictine monks who are forbidden by their order to eat meat. This kind of cheese, then, might have satisfied the taste for meat among those who have vowed to “abstain entirely from eating the meat of four-footed animals.”
Burns is always extraordinarily articulate when describing the flavors of cheese. “The texture is similar to a supple, springy paste, almost marshmallow-y and gooey, which is a result of the bacteria, and which would make this an excellent cooking cheese. It just melts onto your tongue. To me, it’s got a very palatable bitterness, almost vegetal, like a Brussels sprout.”
Beer can pair excellently with many cheeses, and washed rind cheeses can be very “beer friendly,” Burns explains. “They have this bitterness and that’s a huge part of beer’s flavor, because hops are bitter. Bitterness has a negative connotation, but it’s an essential food flavor that you need for balance. There are also yeasty flavors in Hudson Red cheese, which also makes it good for pairing with some beer.”
We sampled Hudson Red with several beers, and our favorite pairing with was Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ from Lagunitas that Burns said “really brings out a lot in the cheese.” This is not a shy beer, but it’s not overwhelming either, so it was a good match for this cheese which has personality but is not aggressive. The somewhat higher carbonation levels in this beer prove complementary as well in that the bubbles scrub the taste buds between bites, and the hoppiness of the beer seems to cut the dense richness of the cheese. “It supports the cheese,” Burns believes, “and I’m always in favor of that.”