Reading Raclette has an amazing grassy flavor mingling with fruit and nut overtones.

The beginning of the year brought the debut of Reading Raclette, a washed-rind, raw cow's milk from Spring Brook Farms in Reading, Vt. It does not disappoint.

It's further proof that American cheeses have come a long way and the artisanal cheeses of the United States really give European imports a run for their money.

For those unfamiliar with Raclette, it's an Alpine cheese produced in both France and Switzerland and is also an indigenous Swiss dish that sports the same name. It is often consumed in the eastern part of France where that country's version of cheese is produced. Raclette-the-dish is a harmonious blend of melted Raclette-the-cheese scraped into a mix of potatoes, onions, cornichons (pickled gherkins) and served with warm brown bread. The word "raclette" actually translates to "to scrape."

The Swiss and French versions of the cheese are similar in appearance and flavor. They both have a nice orange-brown rind with a straw-colored interior full beefy flavor, with a complex blend of mushroom, fruit and nuttiness on the palate with a creamy, semi-firm texture. Reading Raclette has many similarities, although its rind is richer in color and the flavor lacks the mushroom flavor of its cousins. Its beefy punch is more subdued, but there is an amazing grassy flavor mingling with fruit and nut overtones. It's almost bohemian-wild and elegant at the same time.

On a production note, this is only the second cheese that has been produced by Spring Brook Farms. Its first farmstead cheese, Tarentaise, was a collaboration with nearby Thistle Hill Farm, which has won many awards and is definitely a cheese to seek out. Jeremy Stephenson is the cheese-maker behind Spring Brook, which is actually a non-profit, educational farm. All proceeds from cheese sales go to Farms for City Kids, which promotes classic education for children ages 8-12 along with agricultural education for many inner-city kids who have never even seen a cow. They also have a second program, the Barn, which allows children with disabilities to learn the ways of the farm.

Do yourself a favor, pick up this worthwhile "Americanized" cheese to snack on or maybe create your own Raclette-the-dish. Have a glass of Pinot Gris or Beaujolais, or a nice Saison, if beer is what you crave, and think of what a difference something tasty can make.

Wendy Hunsinger is the specialty-foods manager for Katzinger's in German Village.