Clockwise from upper left: Beemster extra old (Holland, cow), Lagrein (Italy, cow), Humbolt Fog (California, goat), and Cashel Blue (Ireland, cow)
We broke out the cheeses the day before yesterday, serving them with good bread, almonds, and honey. Since I know my friends are dying to know how these tasted, here's a quick summary. Note that I'm no cheese expert, so if you're looking for good descriptions I'd suggest you try another source :)
Beemster extra old: This is an aged cow's milk Gouda from Holland. It's hard to see in the picture, but the cheese is studded with crystals, and thus is fairly showy. We've had some aged Goudas in the past that were so strong that they were best used for cooking; eating them raw, even with bread and/or honey, proved unsatisfactory. This Gouda, however, is a perfect eating cheese. It's filled with good aged flavor, it's caramelly yet savory, but is mild enough that it's great all by itself or with a piece of bread.
Lagrein: This is a cow's milk cheese from Italy, made by the Mila co-op. The cheese is bathed in red wine and spices, and has a very distinctive purplish rind. And, oddly enough, it tastes just like a good salami. I found this cheese to be perfect all by itself; eating it with bread or other sides overwhelmed the moderate flavor, which I wanted to savor all by itself.
Humbolt Fog (front) and Lagrein (back).
Humbolt Fog: This is a classic California aged goat milk cheese, which I'm embarrassed to say that I hadn't tried before this tasting. I'm a sucker for ash layers (I've loved the Morbier I've tried), but the ash seems like it's just for show (I didn't notice much of a flavor difference around the ash). The cheese itself is a delicious melding of two distinct flavors. The gooey outer region has a savory, pungent taste with an almost blue flavor from the rind, while the center has a milder, tangy goat cheese flavor. And since the two flavors are spatially separated, you can decide for yourself which flavor(s) you'll get in any given bite. We both loved this cheese, and we ate the entire chunk in just one sitting. The cheese reminded us of Le Chevrot, though the outer gooey portion of Le Chevrot we've eaten has been stronger in flavor.
Cashel Blue: This is a cow's milk blue cheese from Ireland. Until a few years ago I disliked blue cheese; the classic "blue" flavor just turned me off. But, I kept trying them, and my first favorite was Roaring Forties, which I had at The Cube in Los Angeles (my favorite cheese restaurant). Cashel Blue reminds me a lot of Roaring Forties: it's a creamy blue, and was just delicious on bread either by itself or with a dab of honey. I don't have a lot of experience eating blues, so can't say much more than "I liked it!"
The cheeses made for an absolutely delicious meal; thanks for the present!