Have you tried Washington State University Cougar Gold cheese? One of the oldest of Northwest cheeses, Cougar Gold is perhaps best known for its packaging – it comes in a tin can. In fact, all of WSU Creamery’s cheeses come in cans (though they also sell small individually wrapped wedges).
The novel packaging dates back to the 1940s, when WSU conducted research in cooperation with American Can Company into
potential methods of packing cheese for the troops (WWII troops)….the thinking was that since cheese is a nutrient
dense food, it had the potential to be a simple and efficient source of sustenance for soldiers overseas. But it turned out that packaging cheese in cans – which were simple and efficient to transport – was not as easy as it seemed. First, researchers had to solve the problem of exploding cans, a result of the gases emitted by cheese microorganisms during the aging process. Eventually, they were able to come up with a cheese recipe that worked successfully, and that’s the Cougar Gold that we know today. One issue that the canning process did not solve was spoilage – cheese stored in cans still needs to be refrigerated. This is why canned cheese is not part of modern day MREs. But we, dear readers, can still enjoy the fruits of all of that research, because we still have WSU Cougar Gold.
Step 1: Note the imprint on the top of the can – this is the date your cheese was made, allowing you to pinpoint its age exactly. How often can you do that with a cheese? Not very often. And yes, that is actually the name of the person who made that batch of cheese on that day.
Step 2: To get at your Cougar Gold, a simple can opener is all you really need…..but hang on tight as this is no wimpy can of refried beans.
Soon, your cheese will reveal itself.
Step 3: Remove cheese from can. I made a small wedge shaped cut (see above) which provided more surface area with which to pry the cheese out.
This cheese is quite remarkable… partly just because it comes in a can. How good can it be – you may think to yourself – it’s canned? But once you taste it you’ll find yourself joining the ranks of Cougar Gold addicts, those who make the pilgrimage to Pullman, Washington to witness the making of the cheese firsthand. Even if you didn’t go to WSU. Even if you’re a UW Husky (like me). It’s rich, nutty and tangy and really everything you’d want in a good cheddar, but with an underlying sweetness that takes it beyond the traditional. So good is this cheese that Beecher’s Flagship is modeled after Cougar Gold (Kurt Dammeier is a WSU alum).
Intrigued? You can buy Cougar Gold directly from the creamery for $18/can if you happen to find yourself in Pullman, Washington – or order online here. I occasionally see Cougar Gold featured at Northwest area cheese counters so if you can’t find it ask your cheesemonger.