Today, on the never-ending but almost always rewarding search for good cheese, we stop by Stinky Bklyn, where Smith Street’s only jamon bar and an always-rotating selection of craft beers on tap for growler fills compliment the star of the show – a gleaming case featuring some of the planet’s finest cheeses. We ask Christopher Killoran, Stinky’s cheese obsessed wholesale director, to help us navigate.
OK Chris, you know your cheese. What’s something that you’re really liking these days?
It’s not always easy to answer that question, but today, for me, it is. I’d say you’ve got to try the Mont Saint Francis. It’s a raw, aged, washed rind goat milk cheese from Capriole Farmstead. This has been one of my favorite cheeses for a while, but this is the first time we’ve had it in about six months. The drought in the Midwest has cut their production almost in half, so I’m really happy to have it back in stock.
Capriole is in the hills of southern Indiana. They’ve been around since the seventies. The cheese maker is a woman named Judy Schad. She’s one of the pioneers of this generation of artisanal cheese makers in the United States. I would go as far as to say they make some of the best goat cheeses in the country.
They have a few fresh goat cheeses in the more typical chevre style most people are familiar with, but it’s the aged raw goat milk cheeses that I think are where they really stand out. These guys are one of a very few producers of raw, aged goat milk cheese in the country.
Interesting. Most producers just stick with the fresh chevre style?
It’s not easy to make raw, aged cheeses with goat milk. Goats produce less milk than cows or sheep. So you need more animals, and more land, and it requires more milking, more work, to get the same amount of milk from a herd of goats as you might from another animal. For a lot of cheese makers who produce their own milk, there’s a real pressure to make fresh, unaged goats cheese and get it out onto the market quickly in order to keep money coming in to cover the expenses of running the farm.
In this country, all cheese under sixty days old has to be pasteurized by law. When you pasteurize milk, you’re heating it to kill bacteria. So the milk used to make fresh goat cheese is almost always pasteurized. The problem is that when you heat the milk like that, you really mute its flavors. You can use unpasteurized raw milk in cheeses that are aged for at least sixty days, because the acids and salts in the raw milk naturally kill any harmful bacteria in that time, so the flavors of the milk get to come through at top volume in the aged raw milk cheeses.
Farmers and cheese makers like Capriole go to great lengths to produce the best possible milk. They carefully breed their goats over years for milk production and flavor, they move them through acres and acres of fresh pasture all spring, summer and fall. They care for their goats in the best possible way. Very few farms are doing it to the level that they do. So when they use their raw milk in one of their cheeses, all the subtle flavors in that milk they work so hard to produce get to shine through.
The Mont Saint Francis is a perfect example of that. It’s a semi-soft cheese with full beefy, earthy, musky flavors that combine really nicely with that tang you get with goats milk. It’s a washed rind cheese. Washing the cheese while it ages is what gives you that familiar pungent stink on strong cheeses. This one is washed in a way that is strong, but still subtle. It doesn’t overpower the cheese. You can taste where the cheese is coming from, how it’s been made, and all the complex grassy notes in the milk used to make it. You can smell the barnyard and the goats, along with hints of grass and hay and sweetness.
So it’s pretty powerful on the nose with rich, earthy, rustic flavors and a little grassy tang. It’s rich and creamy in the mouth, with a mellow finish that lingers and keeps developing. Like I said, it’s one of my all-time favorite cheeses.
Any particularly good pairings come to mind?
I think you want to be careful about pairings with a really great cheese. When you pair a cheese like this with something, it’s going to be a lot easier to tone down flavors in the cheese than it is to really accentuate something. You’re going to be covering up some aspect of the cheese, and that’s tough for me because a cheese like this is made so well and with such care that it’s kind of perfect as it is.
That said, I do love a good beer with a good cheese, and we carry one that I think works really well with the Mont. It’s called Innis & Gunn. It’s a lighter pilsner-esque beer from Scotland that’s aged in oak whiskey barrels and rum casks, and that oaky note to the beer is just out of this world with an aged goat cheese like this.
So how did you end up becoming a cheese person, and working here at Stinky?
Well, I grew up in New Hampshire. My dream when I was a kid was to open a restaurant with my dad. Once I got a little older though, he shared the news with me that he didn’t actually think that was the best idea from a financial perspective. [laughter.] So I settled for my second dream, which was writing.
I’ve always loved cheese. I remember the first great cheese I had as a kid. We were on a family trip to Ann Arbor, Michigan, and we went to a cheese shop called Zingerman’s Creamery. I had a taste of Humboldt Fog. It’s still one of my favorites to this day.
I’ve always been into food, and cooking. I went to the University of Vermont and studied writing to go into food journalism. I minored in cheese. That gave me my first close look into the world of making great cheese, and I was kind of hooked. After moving to New York I ended up working at Murray’s Cheese where my education continued. When the opportunity opened up at Stinky, I couldn’t pass it up.
Stinky Bklyn is located at 215 Smith Street, between Baltic and Butler, in Boerum Hill.
Photography by Morgan Ione Yeager. All rights reserved.