Cheese of the Week: Red Hawk

I think it was living in England that converted me to stinky cheese.  It’s not like I grew up eating plastic, tasteless American cheese; in fact, one of my favorite childhood snacks was toast with gjetost (a caramel-colored Norwegian goat’s milk whey cheese that I probably don’t need to tell you is pretty obscure in the States).  Nevertheless, I think Oxford was a turning point for me.  With cheese shops everywhere, France just across the channel, and the historic covered market (complete with its own special stink), it was impossible to resist for long.

Red Hawk cheese, by Cowgirl Creamery

Red Hawk cheese, image courtesy of Cowgirl Creamery

Red Hawk is just about as stinky as they come.  When Gabrielle asked me to cover the Cheese of the Week post for today, I thought of it immediately.  While many potent-smelling cheeses are imported from Europe, Red Hawk is made right here in California from locally-produced organic milk, by none other than — you guessed it! — the gals at Cowgirl Creamery.

Besides the rich, meaty umami flavor and silky-smooth triple-cream consistency, one of the strongest recommendations Red Hawk has is the story of its invention.  In the early days at Cowgirl, cheesemaker Sue Conley noticed that the rind wasn’t properly developing on a batch of Mt. Tam.  After trying to fix the problem, to no avail, Sue simply put the cheeses back into the aging room, hoping they might right themselves, and promptly forgot about the whole thing.  Several weeks later, the Cowgirls discovered that the rinds had turned red, wrinkly, and extremely… shall we say… aromatic.  They were about to discard the entire batch, but decided to give it a taste first.  Boy, am I glad they did!  In Conley’s own words, “It was the most amazing cheese that we had ever made!”

Stinky cheese lovers may know that the reddish, smelly skin is characteristic of washed-rind cheeses that have been put through a painstaking process of regular salt-water rinses.  In the case of Red Hawk, the salty Pacific Ocean air achieved much the same effect, the creamery being located only a few miles from the coast at the time.

And what a happy accident.  Red Hawk earned Best in Show at the American Cheese Society’s Annual Conference in 2003, Gold Ribbon and 2nd Best-in-Show in 2009, and 1st place in the Los Angeles County Fair 2008.  As a strong proponent of improvisational food-making, I’m always thrilled by success stories like this one.  So if you’re a fan of the funk, as I am, pick up a 10-oz round of this stuff, pour yourself a pint of stout or a glass of hearty red wine, and get your stink on.

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1 Comment

  1. Oh I’d give it a try! There’s a ton of great cheese shops (along with the wine) in California….here in North Texas, we are sort of deprived of those things. At least fine cheese isn’t seen so often here, but I’m sure if one knows what to look for…which we don’t…

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