This week’s cheese of the week is a special little guy I picked up in California, its native homeland. The cheese’s name is Red Hawk, and its birth was totally accidental.
Red Hawk is a washed-rind triple-cream. It was born out of Mt. Tam, which is Cowgirl Creamery’s organic triple-cream soft-ripened cheese.
Mt. Tam was originally made in Pt. Reyes Station, California, which is not all that farm from the Pt. Reyes lighthouse and the Pacific Ocean.
According to legend (which I heard from a reputable source just last week), some wheels of Mt. Tam were sharing space in the same room as some blues from Neal’s Yard Dairy. The little soft-ripens, teeny little guys that they are, started having a yellow growth form on the outside of them. So the cheesemakers washed it off, but it kept appearing. And they kept washing it off, and it kept on coming back.
They blamed the blue cheeses, but removing the blues from the equation didn’t stop the spread of that colorful growth. So a master cheesemaker was called in, and said, “hey, you’re creating a washed rind cheese. That growth is a local yeast strain, and you’re actually attracting it by washing the cheeses.”
And thus Red Hawk was born. (More or less.)
When they moved the cheesemaking facilities inland, away from Pt. Reyes station, Red Hawk didn’t work anymore. This is because the local yeast that created the cheese along the coast didn’t live inland, and wasn’t about to follow the cheese that far.
So they had to continue making that one cheese in the old location, and went about making other cheese in the new location. In that sense, Red Hawk is all about its terroir.
I was excited to bring home a wheel from San Francisco. Proudly purchased from the Cowgirl Creamery Artisan Cheese Shop at the Ferry Building on the Embarcadero, this little wheel was ripe and ready by the time I got it home. It had to be sequestered in its own baggie on the airplane coming home, so that nobody thought it was me smelling like washed rind funk.
The rind is much more tender than many of the rinds on washed rind cheeses that we know and love, like Époisses, Grayson, Raclette, Muenster and the like. Red Hawk is definitely on the softer end of the spectrum—naturally, given its provenance in a soft-ripened cheese.
The pinky-pale exterior is moist, but not at all crunchy or grainy. The interior is dense, creamy, and rich. Despite the serious scent of funk, it’s about as mild a cheese as Mt. Tam—very mellow, a little grassy or even hay-y, and generally pleasing.
At room temperature, it is supple, buttery, and its bark is nowhere near as strong as its bite.