Bought Right at Bi-Rite
I bet nobody’s ever said that before, right?
Moving on: Early last week I attended another delightful class at The Cheese School, Old World vs. New World with Juliana Uruburu. I’ll write more about that later (there is so much to say!), but one of the highlights of the class was my introduction to an incredible ‘New World’ Parmesan, Sartori SarVecchio. As soon as I had a taste of this cheese, I knew that I wanted more! But…that’s not quite where this post is going. The following evening I was riding the 33 bus back home from my pilates class in the Inner Richmond and, not having had any dinner, I was growing quite hungry. I fondly recalled the taste of SarVecchio and remembered Juliana telling the class that many long-distance runners and cyclists carry a hunk of parmesan or other hard, protein-packed cheese in their pocket for an on-the-go energizing snack. Now, I’m no long-distance runner or cyclist, but anyone familiar with the 33 bus knows that it can be just as trying. Anyone familiar with the 33 bus also knows that it goes right past Bi-Rite Market on my way home, and these facts all resulted in me getting off the bus two stops early in search of some SarVecchio!
Well…Bi-Rite didn’t have any SarVecchio. So, I went home empty-handed. Pshaw! No way. Bi-Rite did have some impressive looking Parms, but I figured that since I had covered that territory in class the night before (again, more to come on that soon), I should strike out in search of something new. I had something my heart set on something hard and salty, and one of Bi-Rite’s friendly cheese specialists suggested Spanish Roncal. A name-controlled classic that I’d never tried? Sold! Of course, once I’d spent about 5 seconds in the cheese section I just knew I’d have to go home with a few treats, so I let this same lovely lady give me two more recommendations, and I went home with the Roncal, a Dutch Remeker, and an Italian Toma Della Rocca — around the world, and only two blocks from home!
Roncal – Raw Sheep’s Milk from Valle de Roncal, Navarra, Spain
This traditional Spanish cheese is produced in the Navarra province from the milk of Latxa and Aragonesa breeds of sheep. Roncal gets it’s name from the Roncal Valley in the Pyrenees mountains, which is home to seven villages that work cooperatively to make the cheese. Roncal is an uncooked, pressed, natural rind cheese, aged between 4 and 8 months. The aging process creates a cheeses with firm beige or brown rinds that are sometimes covered with spots of gray mold. The paste is light yellow and has small holes and the appearance of little cracks. When cut and allowed to stand for a bit, the cheese can start to look sweaty. This isn’t bad, though! It’s a sign of the butterfat weeping out, which indicates the richness of the cheese (George Harrison should have written about that)! How does it taste? Great! I had what I’m assuming was a younger Roncal. It had a decent amount of moisture (which I’m into) with a somewhat nutty but more citrus & olive-y flavor. As the cheese ages, it gets drier, darker, and that nutty flavor will get meatier. Maybe if I had let mine sit around for awhile I’d experience some of that, but polished it off pretty quickly for lunch the next day. Yum!
Remeker – Raw Cow’s Milk from Lunteren, Holland
It was decidedly easy to eat this delicious cheese, but I had a hell of a time trying to learn about it! I’ve got some stuff, but my resources were limited AND questionable, so take all of this information with a grain of salt. According to my research, Remeker cheese is made in Lunteren, Holland by the Van de Voort family, using raw Jersey cow’s milk. The cheese is sold at two ages — Young and Old. The more aged cheese is Old Remeker and the younger is just…Remeker. Or, at least, that’s what it said on the label of the one I purchased! The (Young) Remeker is aged for 6 months, while Old Remeker is aged for 16 months! I can’t speak to the taste of Old Remeker (which I’ve read is ‘deep and complex’), but the Remeker we had (Mike had his fair share) was a delight! Dense & moist for a firm cheese, it was rich and creamy with some nice hints of fruit and hay. With the Remeker, I was again confronted by a cheese that I would describe as ‘fudge-y’, which is just…lots of fun!
Toma della Rocca – Pasteurized Cow, Sheep, and Goat’s Milk from Piedmont, Italy
Oh, Toma della Rocca. Just one taste of this bad boy and I was ready to run away to Italy forever. He might look all nice and neat in this portrait, but once you get your hands on him it gets messy real fast. Even this picture doesn’t do him justice (I don’t know why I’ve turned this cheese into a man — very weird, me), but this experience is worth the mess! Toma della Rocca hails from the Alta Langa region of Italy (right on the border of Piedmont & Lombardy), where soft mixed-milk cheeses are the norm. The cheese is ripened for about 10 days, and tastes and acts more like a goat’s milk than a mixed-milk cheese (based on my experience, at least). It has a nice bit of salt & runniness under it’s thin Geotrichum rind (that’s the brainy kind), but the majority of the paste is thick, chalky, and slightly sour. Because of the goat’s milk, you get a lot of tang and lemony flavor, but the cow’s milk contributes a lot in terms of thickness and a hint of sour cream. The sheep’s milk? That just makes the flavor linger in your mouth, which was a-okay by me. I enjoyed this cheese for a few days in various ways, but my favorite was actually as a breakfast to-go. One day I went to the gym before work (which, wow, never happens) and by the time I was heading out the door I was both running late and very hungry. I sliced off a thick piece of sweet batard, grabbed some Toma della Rocca from the fridge, slapped it together, and walked out the door. And it was amazing! Because the cheese was so cold, it was very firm and the tang was really pronounced. Paired with the sweetness and density of the bread, it was just an amazing (and amazingly filling) treat. I felt like I was eating a very classy version of a bagel and cream cheese!