Bon Bouche

A Good Mouthful…of Cheese

Archive for the tag “Italy”

Ooey Gooey Italian Beauties

Greetings! Happy 2013! As my sister said to me when I first made the transition into cheese official, “It’s going to brie an exciting year!” My response? “It cheddar be!” Kaufman family comedic genius aside, we were right. I’ve been so busy working with cheese that I haven’t had any time to write about it. Well, that’s going to change. There’s so much I want to tell you. Things are going wonderfully for me at work — I’m learning tons, tasting pounds, making amazing new curd-nerd friends, and I’ve recently been put in charge of ordering shop supplies! Glamorous? Not quite, but I now know the praise and appreciation one receives upon the arrival of a much-needed case of paper towels. Still, my love for cheese has not been replaced by a passion for latex gloves, so this blog will remain focused on what’s important. And, right now, I’m living and loving the Dolce Vida….surrounded by ooey, gooey and amazing formaggio.

This would be a nice addition to my cheese pillow collection. No lie, that exists.

This would be a nice addition to my cheese pillow collection. No lie, that exists.

The shop where I work carries about 80% domestic cheeses. So, with an inventory that includes only about 20% imports, you know those long distance travelers have to be good. Sure, a solid Parmiggiano Reggiano or a peppery Pecorino is a perennial fave, but I’m currently all about the stuff that’s soft, salty, spreadable…and a little bit stinky.

Taleggio

Taleggio

When it comes to stinky Italian cheese, Taleggio is like the Godfather. No offense to my Italian readers. I’m sure you’re kind of over all the mafia stuff but, this time, it fits. You do not tell Taleggio what to do — it tells you. As a cheesemonger, there are some cheeses you can push around…but not this one. If Taleggio wants to ooze, it’ll ooze. If Taleggio wants to stick, it’ll stick. You get the idea. There’s just no arguing with Taleggio…and there’s no denying its greatness, either.

Taleggio is an old cheese — an iconic stinker with a long history. Made in the caves of Lombardy’s Val Taleggio since the 9th century, there is evidence that this cheese was once used as currency. Delicious, pungent currency. Taleggio is a washed rind and smear-ripened cow’s milk cheese, meaning that the young slabs are covered in brine, as well as a secret solution that most likely contains bacteria, fungi, and the leftovers of Taleggios past. It sounds gross, but the results are anything but: A thin, firm, flavorful and sticky orange rind with a pudding-like, moist, and hopefully oozy paste hidden underneath. Like most washed rind cheeses, the taste of Taleggio is mild in comparison to its funky aroma. Still, this isn’t necessarily a bite for beginners. Our Taleggio is organic, soft, and scrumptious. The flavor is rich, beefy, dirty, and delightfully salty. The paste is pliable and one bite will coat your mouth with a velvety sensation that is nothing like Velveeta. Pair some with crusty bread, an Old World Pinot, and a willingness to indulge. Evviva!

Val Taleggio: I want to go to there.

Val Taleggio: I want to go to there.

Nuvola di Pecora

Nuvola di Pecora

If Taleggio is the Godfather of stinky Italian Cheeses, then Nuvola di Pecora is like Michael Corleone — a classy & reluctant heir to the throne. However, Nuvola di Pecora can be a little bit like Fredo, as well — bold, charismatic, and entertaining. Or maybe I just don’t know The Godfather well enough to make references? I’ll stick to talking about cheese and I promise not to put any cow, sheep, goat or water buffalo heads in anyone’s bed.

The point is: Nuvola di Pecora doesn’t seem quite sure what it wants to be, and therein lies its beauty.  The name Nuvola di Pecora literally translates into “sheep clouds”, and I can’t imagine a more fitting description. A beautiful, bumpy bloomy-rinded square wheel of fluffy, velvety aged sheep’s milk made by the River Po in the Emilia Romagna region of Italy, the older (and, in my opinion, better) wheels of Nuvola come decorated with splotches of beautiful neon yellow and aquamarine mold. This looks like a cheese that’s going to blast your sense of smell and taste (a la Fredo), but it’s much more mellow and refined (just like Michael). The paste is not quite creamy and not quite hard. Really, this is sheep’s milk custard, with added hints of root vegetables, steamed milk, and a pinch of toast-dipped-in-egg. Every now and then, we get a wheel that’s a little bit strong and a lot bit salty — and those are my favorite days. Either way, pair a thick slice of Nuvola with some thick fruity jam…or just a lush, fruity wine. No matter the pairing, you’ll go to bed dreaming of sheep clouds no matter what.

The Brothers di Bufala – Quadrello & Casatica

Let's make some cheese!

Let’s make some cheese!

Running the mafia isn’t the only way to get into a family business. Just ask Alfio & Bruno Gritti of Caseificio Quattro Portoni, the makers of two of my new favorite cheeses: Quadrello di Bufala and Casatica di Bufala. The Quattro Portoni farm was founded in Bergamo, Italy in 1968 by Renato Gritti, father of Alfio & Bruno. Dairy farming started in 1970, but with one big different from the way they do it today: They were milking cows. In 1982 the operation was taken over by Alfio (who had received a degree in Veterinary Farming) and Bruno (a specialist in agronomic land management) and, in 2000, they made the decision to try their luck farming and milking Mediterranean water buffalo. How’d it go? Well, by 2003 they had decided they would only work with water buffalo and, in 2005, they began making and selling rich, delicious, water buffalo’s milk cheeses. I love these brothers, and not just because their products make my taste buds sing. These guys have some good ideas, and they describe their mission like this (roughly translated from Italian to English): “To combine the ancient Lombardy tradition of cheesemaking with the exceptional characteristics of buffalo milk…to suggest a novelty capable of stimulating the interests of experts in high quality products.” I like the way the Gritti brothers mix old-world tradition with innovation and I admire the way they boldly aim to please. It’s true that water buffalo’s milk is exceptionally rich and wonderful, and there’s no better place to see it at work than in these two cheeses.

Quadrello di Bufala

Quadrello di Bufala

Remember Taleggio? Well, this is its buffalo’s milk counterpart (don’t worry, I’m done with the Godfather comparisons). Raw milk is formed into square slabs, washed in brine, and then aged for 2-3 months. The thin, slightly sticky rind varies in color: some wheels are light and pink like the one shown above, and some are dark and tough, an almost-gray or brown brick. No matter the exterior, the paste is always a treat: soft, fudgy, and crisply white, Quadrello di Bufala is a mild, milky, sweet, and sometimes fruity play on the classic Taleggio recipe. Want an Italian cheese that looks awesome and will appeal to every palate? Go for Quadrello….or Casatica.

Casatica di Bufala

Casatica di Bufala

Oh Casatica di Bufala, my newest creamy obsession. While Quadrello is inspired by Taleggio, Casatica di Bufala is a more traditional stracchino (or ‘stretched curd’) style of cheese. Water buffalo’s milk contains about twice the fat content of cow’s milk, and this luscious decadence is on full display in Casatica. The intact wheel looks like a squat, fat, snow-covered log, due to its thick and bloomy rind. Cut this cheese into chunky slices and let the paste take center stage. Soft-ripened and aged for only a few weeks, Casatica is much creamier than Quadrello, extremely spreadable and delicately sweet, salty, and a little bit savory. I’m not usually a fan of bloomy rinds (yep, I’m that person who tunnels into the Brie), but for Casatica I make an exception. Instead of something limp and bitter, you get a nice crunch and roasted garlic-y bite from Casatica’s rind, the perfect complement to its sweet and creamy paste. Put this on some toasted foccacia and it’s the most buttery garlic bread you’ve ever had. Or just eat it off the knife. No judgment here.

Bonnie Blue?

Let’s take a minute to talk about soup, shall we? It may sound crazy to you, but until 2012 (yep, this year), I didn’t like soup. “What?,” you’re probably saying. “Who doesn’t like soup?” Now, don’t get me wrong: Like all sane humans, I enjoy a grilled cheese dunked in tomato soup from time to time and, before I went veg, I frequently fed a cold with some chicken noodle (I have tendency to get sick). But…that’s about it. To me, soup was always just an excuse to eat something else: a delicious bread bowl or croutons and cheese. I would proudly proclaim that “I like to chew” and end any discussion. That makes it sound like I lead an exciting life full of soup discourse but, really, it’s only come up from time to time. Anyhow, this year, something changed. I don’t know what prompted the decision but, at a local salad and sandwich spot, I ordered the soup. It was carrot dill, and it changed my life. Dramatic language aside, it was so delicious, I can’t even tell you. The ingredients tasted so wonderfully fresh and the soup was so flavorful, I didn’t dunk anything in it! Since then, my eyes have been opened to the world of soup. Potato leek, lentil, minestrone, corn chowder, and on and on and on. My point is: There’s a whole world of soup out there, and to think that I didn’t like all soup, just because I didn’t like some soup, was crazy! And, if you think there’s a wide variety of soup out there, just wait until you start to learn about cheese.

Ah, yes, cheese. Back to the point. I have a coworker who is a self-professed cheese lover. There’s only one problem: According to him, he doesn’t like goat’s milk cheese. He insists and, still, I refuse to believe it. “I didn’t like soup,” I say. “Now, I love it.” Is this making sense? What I’m trying to say is that there are literally thousands of different kinds of goat’s milk cheese. My coworker has had some he doesn’t like, that’s all. One day, with my help, he’ll find the ones that he does! It’s not like he’s lactose intolerant. This guy eats brie almost every day. And if you think that I don’t know what I’m talking about, let my own story be a lesson.

Before about, oh, 6 months ago, I would have sworn to you that I don’t like blue cheese. If I saw anything on the menu that came with blue cheese, I automatically passed. If I saw blue cheese at the grocery, I grimaced. Just the thought of “blue cheese” offended me. Now, I realize that I was wrong. I didn’t like some blue cheeses, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like any of them. My limited experiences with French Roquefort and salads decorated with Gorgonzola had misinformed me! While I appreciate these cheeses and what they (pun intended) bring to the table, I’m still not a fan of that peppery cheese taste and I prefer not to have rich goop weighing down my lettuce (unless, of course, that goop is Ranch dressing). The difference is that now I know there’s a whole world of blue cheese out there, and I’m basically determined to try every one. In fact, my past ‘distaste’ makes each new delicious discovery even more amazing, and it’s taken less than a year to realize that I’ve been a blue lover this whole time!

First, I found the delightfully sweet and sour Bohemian Blue. Then, I became quite fond of the rich and tangy Colston Bassett Stilton. I realized I’d been converted when I tried the smooth & savory Fourme d’Ambert and, when I had that washed rind Tilston Point, I briefly considered never eating anything else. Well, there’s another breathtaking blue to add to that list.

Strachitunt Val Taleggio (raw cow’s milk from Lombardy, Italy)

The first class I worked at The Cheese School last week was ‘Cheese & Wine of Lombardy’ with Italian cheese expert Andy Lax and wine aficionado Naomi Smith. We tasted an incredible variety of Lombardy’s delicacies (one ticket to Italy, please!*), but nothing stunned the crowd (or my senses) like the Strachitunt. This cheese is often called “The Jewel of the Val Taleggio” and it’s not hard to see why.

Where to start? Well, Italy! And the alpine valley of Val Taleggio, to be exact. Strachitunt has been made in this part of Lombardy since the late 1800’s using raw local milk taken only from the Bruna Alpina cows that live at an altitude of nearly 3,000ft. (or, as they say there, 900 meters).

This guy’s just chillin.

Strachitunt is the product of a unique making process: The cheese is made with the combining of two different curds, worked (i.e. produced) 12 hours apart. Meaning, una Bruna Alpina is milked once in the morning and then again that night. The curds from these two milkings are then combined to make this treat. But, first, it’s aged in limestone caves for over two months. Trust me, it’s worth the wait!

As you can maybe see in the picture above, the Strachitunt doesn’t even look that blue. There are some eyes and clustered pockets, but not too many. The piece that I had was completely cream colored! If it weren’t for the appearance of the rind, I wouldn’t have known that it was a blue…until I tasted it. Oh, that taste! This is an aromatic cheese, and you get a good informative whiff right before you pop it in your mouth. The texture is a delightfully confusing mesh of soft and firm (perhaps as a result of the mixed curds?) with an insanely wonderful creaminess on the palate. Known as a ‘dolce-amaro’ (sweet & sour), I found it to be more of a sweet & salty cheese, but in a very delicate and balanced way. Does that make sense? This cheese is hard to describe, it’s magic is so elusive. Here’s an idea: Get some for yourself and let me know what you think. I bet it would be great for dessert, paired with port or some fruit and honey.

*I’m sure my father is ready to kill me at this point. We took a family trip to Italy in 2005 or 2006, which marked my last summer as a meat-eater. I spent the whole trip downing steaks. Now, I’m a vegetarian cheese enthusiast – I should have been eating formaggio instead!

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!

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