During the pre-Christmas weekend I found myself challenging the blue cheese selection at the giant Whole Foods Market store on Kingsbury Ave. in Chicago. I believe that if I could have frozen everyone in that store at that moment and taken a head count I would have found that there were enough customers to fill a large basketball stadium. But I digress.

Rogue River Blue was out of season, but I came across a cheese called Vermilion River Blue. “Wait one second,” I thought. “I have waded, rafted, and fished in the Vermilion River, who in the hell is naming a blue cheese after it?”

The answer, of course, is Ludwig Farmstead Creamery, located in Fithian, Ill. There are only a couple or three farmstead cheesemaking operations in my home state, and I believe that Ludwig, which was founded in 2010, might be the youngest.  The farm has been around a lot longer—for five generations to be precise.  After completing a chemistry degree, Farm Manager Jake Ludwig  decided to make cheese from some of the milk from the farm’s award-winning Holstein’s. Ludwig is primarily a breeding farm. Sadly, Ludwig was killed in a car accident that same year.

Veteran cheesemaker Fons Smits (Cowgirl Creamery, Traders Point) now leads the cheesemaking efforts, and Ludwig Creamery has introduced several Dutch style cheeses, selling them through farmers markets and directly to restaurants in the central Illinois and Indianapolis.

Vermilion Blue, however, is the creamery’s first American original, Smits says.

“I wanted to do something very different,” he says. “What we ended up with is a triple crème blue.” Triple crème cheeses are made from a base of whole milk, but with extra cream added to increase the fat content in the finished cheese. The extra cream gives the cheeses a luscious, soft texture and creamy flavor.

“Most are whole milk, and most are very strong in flavor,” Smits says. “With a triple crème, you are able to cut that strong flavor and it sort of melts in your mouth—it makes the blue flavor more subtle.”

The food grade cheese coating is commonly used for Dutch style cheeses, and Smits used it here too to keep the cheese neater and to prevent the spread of mold to other cheeses without the need for segregation. The cheese coating also allows some aspiration as the cheese ages and for the development of a slight rind under the coating.

On Christmas day, while visiting my friends Dave and Sarah, we tasted the Vermilion with a few hoppy beers.   The paste had a golden to pale milky color in the paste, blue steaks in the center and dry brown pock marks closer to the rind. The texture looked slightly crumbly to fudgy. Aroma was milky with a hint of acidity and even some barnyard.

The flavor was a nicely creamy with a noticeable acidity and a bit of salt. Overall this is a very nice cheese. More flavorful than expected, and quite unique. It’s one to look for.

The cheese seemed strong enough, so we paired it with the Bengali Tiger from Sixpoint Brewery, in Brooklyn, NY. This is a mid-sized (6.4% ABV) American IPA.  Ours poured with a nice orange color and a tight creamy head.  Big citrus and bread aromas greeted the nose.  There was a burst of toast, and caramel malt, plus fruity flavors from the hops. It finished dry and bitter.

The cheese and the beer did pretty well together, with the creamy flavor of the cheese mingling with the fruity hop flavors.  But the Vermilion’s salt became more pronounced with the beer and it seemed to overpower the malt flavors. I would give the pairing a 3.5 out of five. This cheese might do better with a sweeter beer like a Belgian double, or perhaps something with some roast malt like a flavorful brown ale or porter.

Look for the cheeses of Ludgwig Farmstead Creamery in Whole Foods Markets in Indiana and Illinois and at Marion Street Cheese Market, in Oak Park, Ill.

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