Dear Mr. Gold:
A friend of mine went back to Wisconsin for the holidays and returned with a bounty of cheesy treats. I was introduced to juustoleipiä and totally fell in love with this funny, squeaky cheese with its baked, sweet, caramelized crust. Do you know where I might be able to find some in Los Angeles? Please help abate my cheesy cravings…
— Lan Tran, Los Angeles
Juustoleipiä is a traditional baked Lapp reindeer cheese, usually slathered with jam and fresh cream as a dessert. As the saying goes: first, you catch your reindeer – at least it seems to be easier on the animals than the smoked reindeer tongue that is also a specialty of the region. You could also dry it, put it in a safe-deposit box and serve it to your grandchildren someday. It won't squeak, but elderly juustoleipiä is apparently still tasty when you toast it over a fire.
As reindeer milk is hard to come by in these parts, the version you tasted was probably made from cow's milk by Carr Valley, a Wisconsin cheesemaker revered for its extremely aged cheddars. The trick, I guess, is finding the cheese, which often goes by the more prosaic, but easier-to-pronounce, “bread cheese.'' Local Whole Foods stores carry Carr Valley cheeses, but a survey of two or three of them turned up nothing. And the guy behind the counter at Artisan Cheese Gallery in Studio City, when he finally understood what I was asking for, wrinkled his nose at the thought of bread cheese. It hadn't been a big seller. Still – he can order it for you. Get a couple. Juustoleipiä sounds as if it might be a useful addition to the survival provisions some of us keep in the basement in case of earthquakes or zombie attacks.
Artisan Cheese Gallery: 12023 Ventura Blvd., Studio City; (818) 505-0207.