A few weeks ago, a good friend asked me to pick up some cheeses to serve at his deck party. As he was a fellow Midwesterner, I thought I'd surprise him with a few heartland selections. No, I couldn't find any cheeses from his home state of Nebraska, although I am sure those Cornhuskers dabble in dairy, but I did locate two blues -- one from Iowa, one from Wisconsin -- that managed to wow the crowd and kick up some adulation.
In particular, Moody Blue -- a smoked blue from Monroe, Wisconsin's Roth Käse -- garnered a lot of party ooh-ahhs. Mr. Nebraska dubbed it "downright bacony" (two words I love to hear), and another friend was moved to whoop, "I taste the Industrial Revolution! I taste smokestacks!"
Moody Blue is, in fact, über-smoky, a whole lot smokier than Rogue Creamery Smokey Blue, a pretty freakin' fantastic raw cow's milk cheese from Oregon state that gets its woodsy aroma from the slow burn of hazelnut shells. Its cult followers would probably get their sniffers out of joint if I didn't mention that Rogue's Smokey Blue has won first place at the World Cheese Awards (Best American Cheese, 2004), along with garnering numerous other cheese medals. Have I fawned enough? Maybe not. Think caramel, hazelnuts, blue cheese; now add fire.
Let's get back to Moody Blue, which has a lot more smoke and a little more bite. It's the ultimate backyard barbecue cheese, good for tossing on burgers, sexing up a steak or just shocking the hell out of the unsuspecting nibbler latched onto a doppelbock. I loved the balance of sweet and salty in this cheese, and, yes, bacon, did come to mind. Along with licorice. And perhaps street fires. Just a few months ago, the U.S. Cheese Championship saw fit to crack a second place award on top of this, in the smoked cheese category. (Empire Cheese of Cuba, N.Y., took first.)
In the meantime, put away your American Spirits, rip off your nicotine patch. If it's smoky flavah you crave, look no further than Moody Blue. Next time, I'm going to eat it on a cheesesteak.
Tenaya Darlington blogs about cheese at Madame Fromage.