Today I wanted to talk about a cheese that is very near and dear to my heart - the Wagon Wheel from Cowgirl Creamery. Even before visiting the creamery in Petaluma and helping make their cheese, I was enamored with this cheese. It is super versatile and incredibly tasty - a must for almost any cheese plate.
Cheese: Wagon Wheel
Producer: Cowgirl Creamery (Cheesemaker - Eric Patterson)
Location: Petaluma, CA
Milk: Organic pasteurized cow's milk
Rennet: Traditional (animal)
Last Sunday I was lucky enough to volunteer at the first West Coast Cheesemonger Invitational in San Francisco. It was quite an experience! There were 35 cheesemongers competing on things such as salesmanship, the perfect bite, pairings, tastings, etc. It was quite an event! (I'll write another post in a couple days covering this event as well as the Fancy Food Show - there are plenty of pictures!) One of the perks of helping out at cheese events such as this is you get to bring home lots of cheese. The picture above is the piece of Wagon Wheel that I was able to bring home. A whole wheel weighs around 16 pounds and this is well over a quarter of a wheel... so much delicious cheese!!
Now to the cheese itself. The Wagon Wheel is a natural rind cheese that is aged for about 2 months. Eric Patterson, the cheesemaker, explained to me when I was at the creamery that this is the first cheese that they used animal rennet instead of vegetarian. He said they did this because they found that the vegetarian rennet developed some off flavors in this particular recipe after being aged. Quite fascinating.
Being a semi-firm cheese, the paste of the Wagon Wheel has a little bit of give, but is still relatively firm. The paste has a yellowish hue and is speckled with small eyes. The smell is earthy, musty with a hint of funk, but when you taste it you are pleasantly surprised with the mellow, buttery, creamy flavor. I was reading the description that Cowgirl Creamery has on their website and they describe the taste like this: "The flavor has a slight tartness balanced with richer notes of brown butter and cream." 100% spot on. I couldn't describe it any better.
This is me helping wash the wheels of Wagon Wheel at Cowgirl Creamery
I've already used this cheese in myriad of ways - featured on a cheese board, melted into some decadent macaroni and cheese, on my sandwich and paired with some mildy spicy salami. It is super duper versatile and is just mind blowing when melted.
This is an example of cheese that is locally made, but may not be available at every Whole Foods in the area. I would definitely call and ask anyone that works behind the cheese counter to see if they stock this cheese. If not, you can always visit the Cowgirl Creamery retail shop in Point Reyes or at the Ferry Building in San Francisco.
I hope you have a chance to taste this wonderful cheese! Until next time, eat, drink and be happy!