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Dec 22, 2008 05:54 PM

Cowgirl Creamery cheeses

Hi, I live in the LA area but I'm posting to the SF board because, obviously, Cowgirl Creamery is up north. I had the chance to purchase the Red Hawk as well as the SF Drake cheeses at specialty food stores here in LA, but much to my dismay, I think both of them were bad. Now, I know that washed-rind cheeses are very "odorific," but being that I appreciate all cheeses, I'm quite certain that these were bad. I even attempted to taste one of them and all I could think was that the cheeses were rotting away, and most definitely not fit for human consumption.

So the question is: am I missing something here? Are the cheeses supposed to stink *that* bad? And more importantly, what is the shelf life of these cheeses (let's say, kept in the fridge in its original packaging).

Thanks in advance!

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  1. I've always found Cowgirl cheeses to be on the mild side, so if they were very stinky they were probably bad. Cheese usually gets funky because it's been stored and handled incorrectly before purchase.

    1. What Ruth Lafler said. I love their Red Hawk and have never found it "stinky".

      1. Sounds like bad cheese. However, I'm not sure what your personal cheese preferences are.

        Like Ruth, I find Cowgirl a mild cheese. Here's a discussion about the Drake.

        Pulling some relevant stuff out of it ... my own experience was the same as that of the first quote

        "The Drake was buttery and mushroomy. It had the superb buttery consistency that good batches of the Red Hawk have. The flavor was not as intense as Red Hawk. The flavor was earthy, rich and creamy"

        "This may be one of my most favorite cheeses - creamy and gooey and just a little tangy"

        "Generally, I'm not a fan of Cowgirl's cheeses finding them too simple, but I liked this example ... The example I had was so soft, it had flattened out to a disk less than an inch thick. But the brownish rind wasn't at all ammoniated, and we all loved it."

        "would you include cowgirl's red hawk in that estimation? because i was once given a red hawk for a birthday, which i ended up leaving out at a warm temperature for a few hours, and when i put it in my fridge, it overwhelmed everything in there. thankfully it tasted good. but i'm far from a cheesehound. "

        "Every washed rind cheese I've ever tried is incredibly stinky and if it's not, well, it's probably underripe. The taste is generally much milder.

        The examples of Red Hawk that I've tried are usually immature and do not have anywhere near the character of raw milk Epoisses, Alsatian Münster, Ami du Chambertin, etc. For that matter, SF Drake doesn't either but I still found it quite delectable in its own way. A few years ago when I was in Cowgirl's store in Point Reyes Station, I complained about the Red Hawk to the cheesemonger. She acknowledged that they're sold too young and unripe, and that it's because that's how their retailers and consumers prefer the cheese."

        "Cowgirl sells cheese based on what their wholesale customers needs are. A retailer, where the cheese will sit on a shelf for up to a couple of weeks, want their cheeses less ripe (so they can age on the shelf) while a restaurant wants the same cheese in a much riper state to serve immediately, more or less. Cowgirl is still perfecting this program, but it makes sense. So ultimately, it's important to realize that proper time is given to allow the cheese to ripen"

        "I really enjoy the Red Hawk. It does vary a good deal from batch to batch and as someone else eluded to, some unripe batches can be too mild and too firm. But some batches that I’ve had have been amazing. Good batches of Red Hawk can have the wonderful intensity of good Epoisses (Epoisses varies from batch to batch as well), but also this very rich milky creaminess."

        1 Reply
        1. re: rworange

          Thanks rworange! I've done some reading before delving into Cowgirl's cheeses, and so when I found the "real thing" to be so rancid...I was quite taken aback. I think these were definitely bad...

        2. Since you sound like you've not had washed rind cheeses before, i suspect that you were unprepared for how smelly a ripe one should be when it's ready to eat. Yes, they should be extremely pungent, though Cowgirl cheeses are sold underripe generally and don't achieve that. The smelly part is the rind, how was the paste itself in flavor? Was it ammoniated?

          Here's my old post on a Francophile catching a whiff of my ripe and fully fragrant cheese even though we were outdoors and some distance away If you've ever had a perfectly ripe Epoisses, you'd understand.

          5 Replies
          1. re: Melanie Wong

            Hi Melanie,

            Yep, they definitely had that ammonia smell. And heck, I even tried a bit of it!!! The overpowering smell just about floored me. I think it's just been mishandled...

            1. re: doraxkishi

              The cheese cannot be wrapped in needs to breathe so that the ammonia gases can dissipate. Those ammonia gases are natural, and created by the molds used to make the cheese. If the cheese is properly ripened, it will be slightly stinky but not highly ammoniated. When ripe, there is no more any fluffy white bloom, and the rind will no longer be white, but instead ivory to tan to yellow-orange, and with slight cracks or creases.

              1. re: maria lorraine

                The cheese in question is Red Hawk. It's a washed rind type, and the rind is red-orange when it leaves the creamery, so it won't quite follow that appearance profile as it matures.

                1. re: Melanie Wong

                  I was not as clear as I might have been. I know the cheese well.

                  At its best, Red Hawk is like Epoisses, but different. Its flavor and aromatics are complex, rich, with a subtle brininess and notes of hazelnuts, mushrooms and forest underbrush. It will have the prototypical orange-ish color, sometimes with red streaks, from whence the cheese gets its name, of the mold brevibacterium linens.

                  All too often, though, Red hawk is released too early from the Creamery, in various undeveloped states of white or tan, and not orange. In this state, the washed rind is still bloomy, dominated by geotrichum candidum, another mold that helps create the cheese, and not by b. linens, the mold that gives the cheese its Epoisses-like flavor and aromatics. G. candidum also causes the ammonia gas in this cheese and in Brie-type cheeses.

                  Then, the cheese is often dealt a second blow by retailers who fail to store or age the cheese properly. Management of the ammonia gas, part of proper aging, is important for this cheese. It needs to be stored in a way that allows the buildup of gases from the g. candidum mold to dissipate.

                  When those gases are not allowed to disperse, the cheese ripens oddly. The g. candidum mold can dominate in flavor and smell (ammonia), and the b. linens mold never takes the lead. As a result, the cheese never develops the desired orange rind and Epoisses-like flavor and aromatics. Instead, the cheese is more like an ammoniated Brie or some odd hybrid, like the over-ripe Red Hawk daveena describes below. However, it's only the g. candidum that's over-ripe; the b. linens is still undeveloped.

                  To make sure you've chosen a good Red Hawk, ask the cheese counter-person to unwrap the plastic wrapping. Color will tell you everything: if it's yellow-orange or pumpkin-colored, you've got a good one. If white or tan, it's not ready and may never become the cheese it's meant to be.

                  1. re: maria lorraine

                    Thanks Maria. I do know for a fact that the Red Hawk that I got had the red/orange streaks all over, but, there were also the tell-tale mold spores growing on a small portion of the cheese, as well. I thought the rest of the cheese would be fine, but it wasn't. Honestly, I think even if I had laid it out to breathe, the taste/smell would have been just a putrid. I believe it's as you wrote, about it being mishandled either in transit or at the third party vendors'. I am still going to try one more time though (buy from a reputable cheese store in this area), and will repost if successful.

                    Thanks for your insight!

          2. A perfectly ripe Red Hawk is gloriously stinky, but mellow and nutty to taste. An underripe Red Hawk is firmer, almost chalky, and a little bland. An overripe Red Hawk is stinky with an ammonia undertone, and stings on the palate.

            I'm not sure about shelf life, mostly because I've bought this cheese at all points in the ripeness spectrum, and I don't know if they were released at different ages, or if they were handled differently at different stores, or what.

            1 Reply
            1. re: daveena

              Your sentence about the overripe Red Hawk totally nailed it on the head. There was a definitely VERY strong ammonia smell, and when I tasted it, it "stung" my tongue and the smell was just like hair dye (if you think about it in those terms).