Specialty Cheese Selection 101
April 4th, 2022
With all the creative and intriguing flavors of Sartori® cheese, it can be difficult deciding which ones to try. Add to that the sheer magnitude of options in the specialty cheese section at your local grocery store, and you’re probably feeling overwhelmed. As ardent cheese connoisseurs, we’re intimately familiar with recommending the perfect cheese for all occasions and navigating the specialty cheese aisle with ease.
The first step is strategy. In an interview with Food52, cheese educator and author Erika Kubick says to come up with a plan and think about who you are aiming to please. “Are you looking for something to cook with or snack on yourself? Are you making a cheese plate? How many people are you trying to feed? Once you answer those questions, decide on a budget for yourself. That will narrow things down.”
If you’re purchasing for a meal or an accent to a salad or sauce, our Classic Parmesan is a delicious choice. With a sweet, mellow, and nutty flavor, this Sartori® favorite is available shredded, grated, shaved, or as a wedge. It can be presented on a board with dried nuts and dried fruit like figs or apricots, or added to a salad with favorites like arugula, pears, and walnuts. We also adore it as a topping for savory red sauce or hearty soup, like the Shredded Parmesan & Crouton Broccoli Soup, a tasty green soup that acts as a perfect vehicle for cheesy, crunchy bread.
Your budget can be affected by a few different factors, but you should never have to spend more than $15 - $25 to purchase cheese for a small gathering. For everyday use, $15 per grocery trip is reasonable for a family of four, unless you’re planning to prepare several cheese-heavy meals. It’s possible to spend much more, but we believe that artisanal cheeses should be able to be enjoyed by everyone.
Most grocery stores have three cheese sections: the refrigerated dairy aisle, the deli cheeses, and the standalone case. The dairy aisle has the factory-made pre-packaged cheeses that many of us grew up on and the deli section is for purchasing sliced cheese from the counter.
The standalone case is where you’ll find Sartori® and other artisanal cheeses. These are the aged cheddars, the aromatic asiagos, the sweet and smooth fontinas. Take some time to look at everything, and don’t be afraid to pick them up and examine their color and firmness. Eating well-made cheese is an experience for all the senses, so engage your sight and touch when examining your options. (We don’t recommend engaging your taste and smell until you get it home unless there are samples in the store.)
There is a whole world of cheese variety, so select something you know you love and something you’ve never tried before. Wonderful cheeses go on sale every day and can be a great opportunity to experiment. Just make sure to look at the Sell By date. Though many unopened hard cheeses will be fine (sometimes even better!) months after the date on the package, it’s best to play it safe unless you’re very familiar with the way the variety ages. Ask the resident cheesemonger for clarity or recommendations, as most are more than happy to share their knowledge.
How do you familiarize yourself with what sets each Sartori® cheese apart from the rest of the cheese crowd? Taste, aroma, and texture, of course! Our most popular cheeses are the highly social BellaVitano®s and the cheddars, and for good reason.
If you’re entertaining guests or want something to bring to a gathering, the BellaVitano® is unlike any other cheese you’ve tasted. The rich, caramelly cheddar meets savory farmstead Parmesan to produce a hard yet creamy texture with a beautiful crystalline crunch. Part of its uniqueness comes from its ability to play well with others. In the cheese world, that means it is the ideal cheese to elevate with hand-finished flavors. As serious cheesemakers, the Sartori® team carefully selects hand finishes that complement the cheese. The goal is not to create an endless variety but rather to accentuate the natural goodness.
Master Cheesemaker Ken Kane’s recommendation is to top medium-rare steak with shredded Merlot BellaVitano® combined with a tiny bit of cream cheese. If you’re entertaining wine lovers, you’ll also want to pick up Chardonnay BellaVitano®. For cheese boards, surprise and delight with the Espresso or Tennessee Whiskey BellaVitano®s and well-rounded, herbaceous Garlic and Herb BellaVitano®.
For everyday snacking and meal complement, Sartori® cheddar is a delicious and crowd-pleasing option. Our approach to cheddars is indicative of two core values: authenticity and ingenuity. As explained by Master Cheesemaker Pam Hodgson, “Our approach is different than everyone else’s. Most cheddar makers will make cheddar according to one recipe and sell it at different ages (Mild, Medium, Sharp, perhaps even an Extra Sharp). At Sartori®, our four cheddars each have their own starters and recipes. They are completely distinct from each other.”
Sweet, savory, and slightly acidic, MontAmoré® brings a bit of wonder to everyone’s taste buds. Look to Old World for the cheese lovers in your life who crave a sharper, buttery finish. For an intense cheddar with tangy fruit notes and a delicately bold nutty aftertaste, Heritage is the multidimensional cheese you’re searching for. And finally, there’s our Farmhouse variety. It holds a particularly special place in our hearts because it’s made in honor of our local family farmers. At once classic and complex, Farmhouse delivers a nutty, buttery force of flavor.
Look for the Family Crest
Now that your mouth is watering at the thought of experiencing the tantalizing flavors of Sartori®’s lineup, it’s time to face the specialty cheese aisle. Since you’re prepared with a list of the varieties you want to purchase, the hardest part is over. Just look for our family crest – it’s on every package of Sartori® cheese, and there’s no other crest like it.
The ship icon refers to the steamer that carried our founder Paolo Sartori to America. The cows symbolize our farm-to-fork ethos and the relationships we have with our family farmers. Naturally, the crest includes an image of Wisconsin, because it is the source of the finest cheese anywhere and it is our home that has shaped us. Finally, and fittingly, our crest is topped by a crown with four stars, representing the aspiration of four generations of Sartoris to make the best cheese in the world.
We’re driven by our passion to create cheeses that families and friends can enjoy together. Once you’ve experienced the Sartori® difference, we believe you’ll be able to taste the love that goes into each flavor our master cheesemakers and team have created. With that, we wish you happy shopping and, more importantly, happy eating!