Year-end holiday celebrations are a time to splurge and indulge: Break out the caviar and Champagne and, when it comes to cheese, put together a tasting plate with some of the most opulent options available. Each pick in this lineup reflects luxury distinctly; all seven offer diverse, intriguing and unique accents.
The Mozzarella House Burrata
$10/8 ounces, formaggiokitchen.com
Here is the cheese world’s equivalent of a decadent dessert cake with an oozing, molten center. Burrata is a shell of mozzarella filled with a mix of cream and shreds of curd, called stracciatella (“little rags”). Though its name invokes “buttery,” burrata’s flavors actually evoke farm-fresh milk. This one, made from cow’s milk, has a dose of salt for focus and leaves a moist, light and refreshing impression.
$15/3.5 ounces, murrayscheese.com
If the burrata captivates with its flavors of farmstead milk, this attractive little cow’s milk drum, from Stepladder Creamery in Cambria, Calif., channels rich, newly made cream. Named for a scenic spot on the way to Big Sur, it has the consistency of butter and is as unctuously satisfying as any of its French triple-crème equivalents—though it’s more subtle, delicate and mild than many.
Murray’s Cavemaster Reserve Greensward
$27/10 ounces, murrayscheese.com
A spruce-girdled, cider-washed cow’s milk collaboration between Jasper Hill Farm and Murray’s Cheese, Greensward was created exclusively for chef Daniel Humm at Eleven Madison Park restaurant in 2011. Every bit the equal of a genuine Vacherin Mont d’Or, it has persistent but not overwhelming funk, great balance of salt and sweetness, lots of umami, a terpene mouth tingle and a big, multifaceted profile, with notes of bacon and eggs, earthiness and a bittersweet bite.
From Castile and León, in northwestern Spain, this rustic 3-month-old bloomy rind goat’s milk loaf represents a complete change of pace from the sophisticated, complex Greensward. It features a smooth, fudge-like consistency that, with age, gradually liquefies from the outside in. Like many of its Iberian sheep’s milk cousins, it’s delectably bittersweet. Packing a wallop of salt and puckering tang on the attack, with moderate goaty funk, it mellows to a creamy, sweetish aftertaste, with lemony overtones.
From Utrecht, this elegant Dutch cow’s milk classic is among the finest examples of artisan Gouda. Aged two years, the VSOP version of Reypenaer loses about a quarter of its moisture and becomes deliciously dense and concentrated, flaky yet moist, and flecked with crunchy protein and mineral crystals. It offers an addictive, dessertlike profile, with a load of butterscotch and some caramel up front, plenty of fermented dairy notes, a balance of fruity sweetness and acidity, and emerging accents of nuts and chocolate.
Pecorino di Pienza Marzolino al Tartufo
The picturesque renaissance hill town of Pienza is the epicenter of Tuscan pecorino. Marzolino, meaning “from the month of March,” is a younger, milder subset of this Italian icon that accentuates the flavor of its black truffles more than an older, fuller-flavored cheese would. That inimitable garlicky, earthy truffle aroma—more boldly persistent than overwhelmingly strong—can cut right through just about any other flavor. Fortunately, though, it finds a delightful balance with the well-rounded nutty, bittersweet pecorino profile, like two powerful voices singing in perfect harmony.
One of France’s most ancient cheeses, from the Auvergne, this is the region’s cow’s milk answer to Roquefort. The finest Fourmes are strong and forceful but never oversalted. With a sharp bite, they’re nonetheless creamy and rich. Whatever blue-moldy bitterness they bring is balanced by sweet, herbaceous and fruity undertones—all contributing to a licoricelike taste—and fades gracefully to an earthy, nutty finish. It’s all delivered in a dense, silky smooth package, punctuated by tantalizing crystal pockets.
David Gibbons is co-author of Mastering Cheese.