Fenugreek in Cheese
One of the cheeses on my cheese board this holiday season is a gouda with fenugreek seeds made in Wisconsin by Marieke Penterman, a Dutch woman who moved to the US and started a dairy to produce the cheeses of her native country. Those of you who are fans of Indian cuisine have probably eaten dishes containing either the leaves or the seeds of the fenugreek plant ("methi"), but fenugreek also has its place in cheesemaking.
The Dutch have a long history of adding flavorings to their cheeses, in the form of seeds, herbs or spices. Besides fenugreek, one can find cheese with caraway seeds, cumin and/or cloves, among other additions. Fenugreek seeds have both a fragrance and a flavor reminiscent of maple syrup. The Marieke gouda with foenegreek (which is how she spells fenugreek) is a young cheese as goudas go, aged only a few months. It needs to be eaten young, since fenugreek is apt to turn the cheese bitter if it ages too long. It is firm, yet pliable--not at all hard and brittle like a superaged gouda. The trademark butterscotch flavor of an aged gouda is absent, replaced by the maple overtones of the fenugreek.
At least two other American cheesemakers have gotten on the fenugreek bandwagon. LaClaire Farms, also in Wisconsin, makes a version of its goat cheese, Evalon, with fenugreek seeds. I have not tasted it, so can't say if I would recommend it. Tumalo Farms in Oregon makes a firm goat cheese called Fenacho, which is excellent, even better, in my opinion, than the Marieke gouda. It's hard to find outside of the West Coast, but if you are on that side of the US, look for it.
There was a recent thread on Sap Sago, the English name for Schäbziger, a curious, almost rock hard cheese from Switzerland made in the shape of a small cone (with a cut off top) and reserved almost exclusively for grating. Its green color comes from the addition of blue fenugreek leaves. This is a different species of fenugreek from the one used in Indian dishes and in other cheese, but the two species are both in the same genus of plants.
OT a bit, but this corroborates what I reckoned fenugreek tastes like- a dessert I tried in Amman, it was slightly beige, a bit of a dense cake, but definitely had a maple flavor. Fenugreek was probably the (fortuitous) culprit, no? If only I knew the name of said dessert...
Today my cheesemonger offered me a taste of Foenegreek Marieke Gouda, $19/lb. It's raw milk. I'm well-familiar with the taste of fenugreek seeds and leaves (dry and fresh) in Indian and Persian cooking. This tastes much different. I'm glad that you posted about its non-bitter and maple-y side, as I'd not experienced that part of its personality before. I loved the velvet smooth and creamy texture of the cheese and the round and deep finish. There's a lot going on there.