I am by no means cool enough to pretend a deep knowledge of fine cheese and its process, and I don’t have the palate to distinguish the nuances of whether a washed rind is serving to flavor a cheese or simply keep moisture out. I will even admit that on occasion I have been known to seek out a bag of shredded mozzarella from Whole Foods and cram as much as I can into my mouth.

Every person I know with serious cheese chops possesses an unpretentious swagger, a contained and understated self-confidence that allows them to speak somberly and without irony about rennet and whey and to extol the perfect timing of a cheese that, like wine, is just coming into its own – “excellent right now,” they remark, as they ascend from the cheese cave with a wheel of something that seems as precious as a rare artifact.

While I am not fluent in the process of cheese, I am at least highly proficient at eating it. And it is one of my truest loves. Like anything precious, I entrust that love to only a few, two of whom are Vincent Maniaci and Jill Dutton, proprietors of The Cheese Iron in Scarborough.

I visit them frequently, and they are so expert I can demand virtually any flavor profile, and they will present me with a cheese that matches it almost exactly. On a recent outing, I asked them for something really different, something unexpected, something they adored.

“The Garrotxa,” one of their employees suggested enthusiastically.

The Garrotxa, it so happens, is one of my favorites, a sublime goat’s milk cheese from Catalonia. After a pause, another cheese aficionado/employee whispered loudly, “NO! The Azeitão.” The name was uttered with deep reverence, like part of a prayer.

Azeitão is a raw sheep’s milk cheese from Portugal, made with a derivative of thistle instead of rennet, which gives it a subtle, delightful lemon flavor, without being the least bit acidic or tart.

It’s also incredibly creamy, and spreads beautifully. There is just a whiff of milk and egg, almost like a flan, and its color is truly beautiful – a rich, creamy ivory that begs for a crusty baguette and light-bodied sauvignon blanc. (Elise at The Cheese Iron suggests something from New Zealand – the tropical fruit notes balance the lemon.) The Azeitão rind is subtle, washed only in salt water, and serves, I learned, to keep the moisture out. It does its job perfectly.

It is delicious and different, a magnificent cheese to serve after a dinner of poultry or seafood, perhaps with orange blossom honey and a few ricciarelli cookies (which may hail from Tuscany, not Portugal, but they suit the Azeitão).

Personally, I needed nothing at all with my piece of Azeitão, except a nice breeze, a bit of reflective quiet and a place to let out a sigh of true contentment.

The Cheese Iron, 200 Route 1, Scarborough. thecheeseiron.com

Anna Stoessinger is a writer who works in advertising. She lives in Maine with her husband, Keith, their son, Henry and her dog, Bess. Anna can be reached at [email protected] or on Instagram @astoessinger.


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