The biggest oysters and strawberries are rarely palate stunners, but Metropolitan Market's cheese buyer Paige Lamb says cheeses can benefit from enormity.
"When it's a larger wheel, the heart of the cheese is denser, so it tends to be creamier," says Lamb, who secured 25 "mammoth Stiltons" from Long Clawson Dairy. The dairy produced the 100-pound wheels last year to mark its centenary; Met Market is releasing the first of 121 wheels slated to be sold in the US.
Each record-setting wheel of blue cheese measures two feet wide by two feet tall, and should produce 300-400 wedges. Met Market staffers will cut into the wheels Thursday afternoon in conjunction with the store's month-long cheese festival.
According to Lamb, the cheese is much sweeter than the dairy's typical Stilton.
"It's a better cheese," she says.
Cheese makers consider the decision to observe an anniversary with a giant wheel of blue cheese as risky as planning a surprise party to celebrate a friend's birthday. Bigger cheeses behave differently than manageably-sized counterparts, and the cheese world wondered whether Long Clawson's huge Stilton would blue properly.
"The concern was whether it was going to be the same wonderful cheese, and, in fact, it is," Lamb says. "The bluing is throughout."
The cheese last year won a "best in show" prize at the International Cheese Festival, beating out 3700 other cheeses.
While Long Clawson had sentimental reasons for producing a very large cheese, oversized cheeses were developed in response to pragmatic concerns. In Switzerland, cheese makers were once taxed by the wheel, so they started making as few wheels as possible. Italian cheese makers tried to skirt similarly oppressive taxes by hiding their wares in their barns. To salute that tradition, Pecorino Toscana producers have experimented with cheeses washed with hay and ash. Met Market will begin selling a honey-and-hay cheese next month, Lamb says.
It's possible that Met Market's mammoth Stiltons will taste slightly different from the cheese which took top prize at the International Cheese Festival. "It was made from the same vat, on the same day, but where it was in the cave versus another, that can produce nuances," Lamb says. Yet she's confident customers can count on a high-quality product.