Fresh cheese. Certainly not something we come across too much in in the U.S., even in higher-end food outlets like Whole Foods. So when I saw the sign for Chapel Hill Creamery’s New Moon that noted the cheese had been aged for only “9 days” I told my dred-locked cheese monger to wrap one up. New Moon viewed from the top has a bloomy white rind resembling a full moon on a cloudless night or as Fleming described it, “about the size, shape and color of an albino Ding Dong”. Upon getting it home I couldn’t wait to cut into the fresh creamy goodness. Major disappointment followed.
I screwed up in leaving the store without first inspecting my purchase closely. Had I given it a thorough exam of smell and touch or at least asked the cheese seller to do the same, I would have spotted that this New Moon was on the wane. Bloomy white rind cheeses like Brie, Camembert and New Moon can go through a similar transformation: from firm and underage, to softening and almost ripe, to soft and starting to ooze, to super-soft and really oozy, to hardening from the outside in, to hockey puck. If cared for improperly, some cheeses can skip the soft-stage all-together and go straight into an awful childhood of aromas of rotten-mushrooms. The cheese I took home hadn’t been abused but it certainly was well past the 9 day mark. The rind was chalky, the center dry and unappealing.
Knowing the temperamental nature of some cheeses and the demands of retail, as well as wanting to support my local cheese producers, I decided to give New Moon another shot. I went back the following week and saw the same sign describing the youthfulness of this cheese. This time I asked the cheese seller when the small white disks had come in. “I’m not sure,” he said. “I know it wasn’t this week because we didn’t get any this week.” I asked him how they looked and if they were ripe. He bent down, peering into the case, and shook his head. That was all I needed. I passed on New Moon that day.
Eventually almost two months later I decided to seek New Moon out again. This time I had better luck and better cheese. Again I asked the right questions but the answers I needed to hear. The New Moon was ready to take home. Still a little young I kept it cool in my cheese fridge for a day before bringing it out to breathe two hours before dinner. I could tell from the pale peach fuzz mold, the soft center and the milky aroma that the New Moon was ready. As the knife cut through the center I could see it was perfectly ripe, at least to my liking. The edges still had some solidity while the center flowed like honey. The taste was good. Not as rich as a camembert but buttery with a hint of grass.
New Moon appeared in full form on the menu again just last night at a local food bloggers’ dinner in Durham, NC with special guest Michael Ruhlman, author of some of my favorite books on the craft and careers of passionate chefs, The Making of a Chef, The Soul of a Chef, and The Reach of a Chef. He announced a new work available soon titled The Elements of Cooking, modeled somewhat after Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style, the bible of writing well. It reminded me of a quote by, I think, George F. Will who said wanting to meet a writer because you like his work is like wanting to meet a cow because you like her milk. If her milk made great cheese I’d want to meet her too.
Name: Chapel Hill Creamery’s New Moon or New Moon
Type of Milk: cow’s, pasteurized
Type: soft, bloomy rind
Produced in: United States of America, North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Date Purchased: 7/22/07, 9/15/07
Date Eaten: 7/22/07, 9/15/07
Purchased Where: United States, North Carolina, Raleigh, Whole Foods
Price: $5.99 each