Every month, Lydia Burns of Marion Street Cheese Market introduces me to a favorite cheese. This month, it’s Red Twig Tomme, a small mound of goat’s milk cheese from West Cornwall, Vermont. It’s made at Twig Farm, a small farmstead that grazes the goats, gets the milk and makes the cheese, all on site.
This is a raw, aged goat cheese, and there’s a common perception that raw, rather than pasteurized cheese, carries some risks, though this does not seem to be borne out by any hard data. I would, however, present the soft data point that raw cheese, because much of the natural bacteria in the milk has not been cooked and killed, seems on average to yield a more complex, better tasting cheese.
Raw milk cheeses sold in the United States must be aged for at least 60 days.
“Most goat cheese are soft-ripened or fresh. Red Twig Tomme is aged at least 80 days,” Burns told me, “and I prefer an older cheese because the flavors have time to develop.”
Much cow’s milk cheese has a yellow cast. This cheese, like most goat cheese, is a beautiful white because, Burns explained, the fat globules in goat’s milk, unlike cow’s milk, “do not trap the beta-carotene,” which gives cow’s milk cheese the yellow color.
Burns described the flavor of the cheese as “sweet, grassy, almost floral, with a salty finish at the end that is not overbearing, unlike a Pecorino [sheep’s cheese] might be, which is all salt at the end.”
Red Twig Tomme used to be called “Fuzzy Wheel,” but I’m guessing the makers found that this name had negative connotations, though it’s interesting, as Burns mentioned, that many wines are described with complimentary phrases like “barnyard-y” and, if you’ll excuse the indelicacy, “cat piss.” Burns explained that with wines, people “are used to that kind of language, but with cheese, it sometimes freaks people out.” Though neither of these harsh descriptors apply to this delicate Red Twig Tomme, this cheese does have a fuzz on the rind that both Burns and I ate. It had, she said, a “cellar-y taste, like it’s been sitting on the basement floor.” She meant that in a good way. I ate all my rind.
To pair with the cheese, Marion Street Cheese Market’s beverage guru Charlie Molinaro suggested an Etienne Dupont Cidre Triple ($9), a triple-fermented apple cider, with a fruitiness that complements the sweet saltiness of the Red Twig Tomme, which at $33/lb is a fromage at a fancypants pricepoint, but with a cheese like this, you need only a little to be made happy.