This strange beast is Stóri Dímon from Iceland, part of a group of Icelander gourmet products offered by Whole Foods in the United States and currently not available in the Memphis market. Because y'all love it when I type odd stuff on this blog, the text on the wooden case says "Græn. Og / Hvítmygluostur / Mjólkurbú / Flóamanna." And there's no way in hell I'm going to try to decipher any of that. My fascination for foreign languages breaks down at 60° north latitude. Icelandic is riddled with archaic characters such as þ and ð that English had the common decency to abandon 500 years ago, though I lament our loss of the æ dipthong.
A brie-like cheese the size of a tall hockey puck. White rind, creamy inside with a few pockets of mold for flavor. It's a triple-cream cow's milk cheese, meaning it's sinfully rich. Flavorwise it's a lot like brie crossed with a bit of fragrant gorgonzola. Consume sparingly; it's like butter.
Cantal has been enjoyed in France since the Roman occupation of Gaul. (Pliny wrote about this fromage but I haven't had the chance to dig through all of the Natural Histories to find the specific quote.) It's a cow's milk cheese that, in this Southern summer heat, is fairly soft. Surprisingly tangy with an earthy quality that's almost goat-like. A nice change of pace, though there's a bit of greasy sludge that comes off the rind end of a slice like this.
Moving eastward through the Mediterranean, Χαλλούμι comes from the island Cyprus and is a Greek favorite made from a blend of milk from cows, goats, and sheep. Halloumi can be eaten plain but can also be fried or broiled for saganaki since it doesn't melt when heated. Some restaurants even splash it with brandy and flambé it for dramatic effect tableside.
It doesn't even require oil for cooking--I just threw bare slices in a pan and heated them until browned on both sides. This is one seriously delicious cheese--savory and salty with a flavor between feta and buffalo mozzarella. And it's got that squeaky quality you normally only get from fresh cheese curds. I served it as a curious appetizer and had to keep fixing more slices until the entire block was gone.
Panquehue is the first South American cheese I've featured here, coming from Chile. It's a soft cow's milk cheese made in the Andes and is often mixed with peppers or herbs. Very soft and mild, sort of like a baby Swiss with the consistency of Port Salut. It tastes good but it lacked the punch that I look for in an after dinner cheese. Which is why I decided to see how heat would affect it...
In a grilled cheese sandwich, made at 2 a.m. with full-hippie seven-grain bread and a few Tony Packo's pickles on the side: awesome.
This is the first German cheese I've written about. In fact, I don't think I've ever eaten a German cheese before. It's sort of like asking for a Swiss beer: they probably make it, but you'd be hard pressed to come up with a name off the top of your head. Hirtenkäse is made in the mountainous Allgäu region of Southwest Bavaria. It's a brick hard cow's milk cheese that tastes something like a mild Parmesan. It's not great, but serviceable. Slice it up with sausages and serve with beer, or grate it over noodles. Or use as bunker shielding during an Allied bombing raid.