Dave Eagle of the local Eagle Mountain Farmhouse Cheese, with the help of his son Matt, has been banging out some pretty fantastic and, in my humble opinion, best Gouda-style cheeses made in our great state of Texas. I was lucky enough to steal him away for a few questions.
What drew you to artisan cheese making?
“I am a former practicing attorney who decided to change direction. During my law practice days, I had several opportunities to travel to Europe. In France, Italy, Germany and Switzerland, I was exposed to the European style of “Local Food.” In southern France, for instance, I had the chance to try many styles of cheeses, charcuterie, and other market-fresh products – not only great food but a different outlook toward food. As one who really enjoys many different styles of cheese, I came back from my last European trip determined to become part of the growing movement of local food producers here in Texas. In my opinion, local is the only way to go. We definitely need to wean ourselves away from the industrial food system, which is slowly killing us. I analogize us in relation to the current industrial food system, replete with genetically modified crops, highly processed foods, and a toxic industrial milk supply, to the proverbial frog in the kettle who never figures out that he is being boiled alive and is unable or too unaware to escape before it’s too late. I hope it’s not too late for us . . . I say, Get the government out of my kitchen! I urge all people to jump out of the kettle right now and go local .
Do you have any one cheese maker/dairy that you model your production after or was it more of a learn as you go process?
“Well, as none of us are born in a vacuum, I did rely on many inputs during the early stages of cheese making, from cheese making supply companies to in-depth reading on the subject. Larry Faillace taught me the fundamentals of cheese making. Linda Faillace comes to mind as well, along with Stuart Veldhuizen, Anne Jones and a host of other cheese makers. Mike Gingrich’s Pleasant Ridge Reserve was an inspiration. Based on a review of Gingrich’s on line video, Upland Dairy’s practices appear to be a lofty bar to set for our own cheese making. In the end, however, it is basically a “learn as you go” process.”
Dave recently dropped off Eagle Mountain’s newest endeavor, a Trappist style cheese called Drunken Monk. What inspired you to craft “Drunk Monk”, and what methods did you use to craft it?
“Actually, Scardello’s Rich Rogers is partially responsible for Eagle Mountain’s “Drunken Monk.” Early on in my discussions with Rich, I asked him if he had any suggestions for a cheese style he would like to see made here in Texas. He gave me a taste of Upland Dairy’s Pleasant Ridge Reserve and told me Pleasant Ridge was made in a “mountain wash” tradition. It’s a great raw milk cheese with nice texture, aroma and flavor profiles.”
“In the meantime, I was conducting some research on washed rind cheeses, including the expected effect of washing the rinds with some alcohol. Washing rinds with alcohol led me to Chip Tate, owner of Balcones Distillery in Waco, Texas. Balcones is currently making a spirited spirit called “Rumble,” which is made from turbinado sugar, mission figs, local wildflower honey and spring water. Since we really want to keep our products Texas based, we decided we would use “Rumble” as our alcohol of choice.”
So, as Dave makes clear, when you hear the term “washed rind” it literally refers to washing the rind during the aging process. When washing with alcohol, as with Drunken Monk, you of course want some flavors to be imparted directly from the liquid, but the real flavors come from the growth of our favorite bacteria, Brevibacterium Linens. B-linens love to be wet, so their desired living conditions can be achieved by washing with wine, beer, spirits, or even something as simple as a brine solution. Choosing one or the other is a decision made by the cheese maker based on what flavors he or she is partial to, be it Marc De Borgogne or Chimay.
We definitely need to wean ourselves away from the industrial food system, which is slowly killing us.
Drunken Monk is a fairly small round weighing in at about 1.75lbs, small compared to Gruyere, a similar “mountain wash” cheese that’s a whopping 80lbs. Where as Trappists generally have slightly sticky rinds from the constant washing of brine or booze, Drunken Monk has a much harder texture. The smell is fairly subtle until you get right up next to the rind. Strong aromas of alcohol and a little mustiness greet the nose, not the overpowering gym sock you might be used to with other washed rinds. The semi-soft texture coats the mouth and is buttery and rich. Acidic sharpness mingles with savory/umami flavors on the palate. You definitely get hints of the boozy flavors as it tapers off with a long and lingering finish.
I normally pair mountain washed cheeses with malt forwards beers, like a classic Doppelbock, but Drunken Monk has a sharp enough flavor to stand up to a good amount of hops. I enjoyed it with Hop in the Dark from Deschutes, a Cascadian Dark Ale or “black IPA”.
In summary, Drunken Monk is another fantastic new cheese from Eagle Mountain. As it’s still being produced in limited quantities due to the labor intensive process required to make it, I’d be sure to scoop it up if you spot it at your local cheese hangout.
Lance Lynn is a beer and cheese enthusiast and works for Scardello in Dallas as a cheesemonger.