Monday, July 2, 2012

Estero Gold

Created by Karen Bianchi, Estero Gold is a raw milk, natural rind cheese and one of the first to come from this family’s closed herd of Jersey cows. Handmade in the style of an Asiago, reminiscent of a Montasio, two of the famous cheeses from the Swiss-Italian dairy country. Estero Gold is malleable when young, with notes of fruit and grass, and is dotted with small holes. The cheese is rich and buttery in flavor, developing nuttier notes as it ages. Named after a nearby river, it has a beautiful golden hue.

Made by Valley Ford Cheese Co., this cheese comes with a history as rich as its flavor. Purchased in the early 1900s, the farm has been family owned and operated ever since. Their herd of Jersey cows has grown over the years to about 450. In 2008 Karen Bianchi, the fourth generation on the farm, decided it was time to make cheese. Her goal was to produce something that pays homage to the family's Swiss-Italian roots while showcasing their fantastic Jersey milk. 

Sunday, May 27, 2012

FireFly Farms

Located in Maryland's Allegheny Plateau, FireFly Farms began as a collaboration among a small group of neighbors who decided to enter the world of artisan cheesemaking. With a 130 acre farm purchased in 1997, the four "Fireflies" initially managed their own herd of goats. In 2006 they decided to focus all their efforts on cheesemaking. They now purchase milk from four local family farmers.

The rich milk produced by Nubian goats is the secret to the rich flavors of there traditional goat milk cheeses. They have a clear, fresh taste and a soft, spreadable texture. 

Their website has the most beautiful image on the front page, which I have used above. There is also a terrific article and interview about FireFly, from Cheese by Hand.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Pecorino Crotonese

Sheep’s milk cheeses are some of the best in the world. Different in flavor than cow or goats milk cheeses, sheep’s milk is known for its rich sharp flavor that is at the same time nutty and sweet. You have probably had sheep’s milk cheeses many times, and not even known it. Feta from Greece, Roquefort from France, and Manchego from Spain are all classic sheep’s milk cheeses. But perhaps the most famous of all are the salty Pecorino cheeses of Italy.

“Pecora” is the Italian word for sheep. And Pecorino tells you that the cheese was made from 100% sheep’s milk. There are lots of different Pecorino’s in Italy, with most taking their names from the regions in which they are made. Pecorino Romano made in Rome. Pecorino Toscana made in Tuscany. Pecorino Sardo made in Sardinia. Pecorino Siciliano made in Sicily. And, well, you get the idea…

One of my newest discoveries is a Pecorino from a small mountainous village by the name of Crotone in Calabria (the toe of the boot). It is called Pecorino Crotonese. And, it is without a doubt one of the most stunning Pecorino cheeses I have ever had. Aged in a wicker basket, it has a distinctive cross-hatch impression on the rind. The flavor is the epitome of a good Pecorino – meaty, sharp, nutty, gamy, and earthy with a unique little citrus tang on the finish.

Pecorino Ginepro

Pecorino, the generic Italian term for cheeses made from sheep’s milk, has been made in Italy since the Ancient Romans. Pecorino Ginepro hails from Emilia Romagna, where at the turn of the 20th century there were many thousands of sheep and hundreds of producers. This number began to shrink as the local Parmigiano-Reggiano grew in popularity and sheep farmers turned to breeding cows to keep up with the trend. Currently, only a small number of farms in Emilia-Romagna still produce pecorino. 

Each 6 pound wheel of Pecorino Ginepro is soaked in an aromatic bath of balsamic vinegar and juniper before it is aged for a minimum of four months. The dark brown rind is created by the vinegar, though the lingering finish is kissed with gin-juniper. The flavors of the balsamic vinegar and juniper seeps into the bone-white paste and give the salty cheese a sweet finish of juiciness. Wrapped in paper, which contains moisture, the cheese is always moldy, and benefits from a few hours' breathing. An unusual and arresting cheese, made of raw sheep milk.

The pleasant combination of sweet and savory in the cheese, along with its distinctive aromas, make it a good match for either a medium-bodied fragrant white or a lighter style red. Fiano di Avellino, the pine scented white from Campania or a slightly tart Langhe Nebbiolo from Piemonte would both go exceptionally well.

Fiore Sardo

Sometimes referred to as Pecorino Sardo, Fiore Sardo is produced on the island of Sardinia off the coast of Italy. Sardinia is an island of savage beauty and violent contradictions. The island's hard and barren interior is surrounded by a green and lush coast. Cheeses that are produced in this hot and dry atmosphere differ greatly from Italian cheeses produced in the cooler northern reaches. This is a cheese with very ancient origins, thought by some to date back to the Bronze Age. With a paste more golden than is usually found in sheep milk cheese, Fiore Sardo is banded by a hard, black, natural rind. This semi-hard cheese is sharp and savory.

Although there are now industrially produced variations of Fiore Sardo that are sometimes made from a blend of cow's and sheep's milk or even pasteurized milk, traditionally Fiore Sardo is made from fresh, unpasteurized sheep's milk, sourced from native Sardinian sheep from a single flock. These versions are made in small mountain huts - known as "pinnette" - by the shepherds that look after these flocks. The natural smoke from the hut's central, open fires give these cheeses their characteristically smoky overtones.

The molds containing the cheeses are briefly immersed in hot water to help develop the thick outer rind. They are then unmolded and placed in a brine solution. After removal from the brine, the cheeses are placed on a trellis-type mat made of rushes which is suspended in the smoky area above the fireplace in the mountain hut.

The second stage of maturation takes place when the wheels are transferred to a platform in the roof before finally being finished in an underground cellar for the last stages of maturation. In the cellar, the wheels are periodically turned (flipped) and greased with olive oil to prevent the rind cracking. Cheeses are matured for between two and eight months before release.

The texture of the outer rind of Fiore Sardo is dry and hard and, depending on age, a pale golden-rust color or a deep rich burnt brown. The texture of the cheese is very firm and dense and straw-ivory in color. Flavors are sweet, rich and nut-like with notes of burned caramel, smoke and salt. Fiore Sardo was awarded D.O.P. status in 1996.

Andante Dairy

Established in 1999 and owned by Soyoung Scanlan, Andante Dairy is located near Petaluma, just north of San Francisco, California. Soyoung has had successful careers in both the engineering and science worlds, working as a biochemist. She also has a strong background in classical music as an avid pianist, making her a rare combination of talents that seem to converge over the cheesemaking vat.

Having studied the properties of milk and cheesemaking intensely for two years, including a stint at Cal Poly, in San Luis Obispo, Soyoung has become a highly respected figure in the artisan cheese industry. She is known for producing small quantities of extremely high quality cheeses, many of which are made in the French style.

Andante Dairy is located at the Volpi Ranch, which is also the source for Scanlan's goat's milk. Cow's milk comes from the 400 strong herd of Jersey cows at nearby Spring Hill Dairy.

By choice, Soyoung works alone. Her cheesemaking facility is clean, simple, highly organized and has plenty of space to move about. Her early cheesemaking career was greatly encouraged and inspired by Thomas Keller, the owner and chef of the French Laundry in Yountville. Keller and Scanlan both have a tremendous eye for detail and perfection, and it is these qualities that shine though in all aspects of Scanlan's cheese.

At Andante, Scanlan produces a range of cheeses made from cow's, sheep's and goat's milk, or combinations of the three. For example, Andante's Minuet is a soft-ripened, triple crème made using pasteurized goat's milk with Sadie Kendall's famous cow's milk creme fraiche added to the curds.

The result is a cheese that combines the richness of a triple creme with the light tangy qualities imparted by goat's milk and creme fraiche. Flavors are bright and clean and luscious, with a very fine, silky texture and delicious, long finish.

Also, her Andante website is one of the most beautiful sites I have ever had the pleasure of visiting.

Andante Dairy's Melange

By Janet Fletcher: Andante Dairy's Melange is a subtle, petite cheese, made from roughly equal parts cow's and goat's milk, weighs in at just over 4 ounces. That's the perfect size for two at the end of a meal; with other cheeses on the tray, it will satisfy four.

Andante cheesemaker Soyoung Scanlan uses goat's milk from the Petaluma farm where her cheese plant is sited and rich Jersey milk from neighboring Spring Hill Dairy. So the milk does not travel far, a factor in quality cheesemaking. The milk is pasteurized, cultured and allowed to ferment slowly; it takes 15 to 18 hours to build up enough lactic acid to coagulate the vat. Milk for Cheddar cheese, in contrast, might be inoculated with enough culture and rennet to produce a curd in under an hour.

The extended fermentation encourages flavor development and yields a more tender curd because so little rennet is used. For a rough analogy, think of an acid-coagulated curd as resembling a fragile custard while a rennet-coagulated curd is more like Jell-O.

The curds are hand ladled into molds, not pumped, a step that preserves their integrity. Over the next 2 1/2 weeks, a thin coat of white mold will envelop the little rounds, signaling the spread of Penicillium candidum. Although the Penicillium spores are present in the dairy, Scanlan also inoculates the milk to ensure that the bloomy rind develops promptly. In less than three weeks, the cheeses are wrapped and out the door.

Melange measures only about 2 1/2 inches in diameter and less than 1 inch in height. To protect it from drying out before it reaches the consumer's table, Scanlan wraps the cheese in plastic, but that is not ideal. It wants to breathe. If you do not plan to serve it immediately, take it out of the plastic and put it in a lidded plastic container to give it a little more breathing room. Refrigerate it, but bring it to room temperature to serve.

As Melange ripens, it softens from the outside in, so a ready-to-eat wheel should yield to gentle pressure. I like to see a little golden mottling on the rind; more than a little and the cheese is probably too advanced.

Internally, Melange should be semisoft and creamy, with a pleasant sour-cream aroma and a lactic tang. Scanlan says she eats the rind, but you can cut it away if you prefer. It wants a white wine with a creamy body but not a lot of oak, such as a Viognier or other Rhone or Rhone-style white wine.

Laura Chenel Melodie Goat Brie

Now located in the state-of-the-art new creamery in Sonoma wine country, Laura Chenel's Chèvre has been in operation since the late 1970’s. Laura Chenel was one of a small group of women cheesemakers to spearhead the production of goat's milk cheeses in the United States.

Having always been passionate about goats, Laura started her dairy in a former snail-processing plant in Santa Rosa. In 2006 she sold the company to French family cheese producers, Laiteries H. Triballat, who continue the tradition of Laura Chenel’s cheesemaking of both fresh and aged cheese.

Milk for production comes from 16 different goat dairies, thirteen of which are in California and three in Nevada. High quality milk is crucial to excellent cheese production and the company has very close relationships with their producers to ensure excellent animal health, nutrition and general well being.

Launched in the autumn of 2011, Mélodie is an “American original” made with fresh, pasteurized goat’s milk and named for its black and white rind, reminiscent of piano keys. After cultures and microbial rennet are added to the heated milk, coagulation takes place and the curd is cut and poured into forms to drain. Each 3 lb wheel is flipped several times to achieve optimal drainage before being turned-out and coated in vegetable ash to help promote the formation of the rind. After a few days, a delicate dusting of white mold starts to bloom, creating the signature grey and white rind.

The texture of Mélodie is smooth, pliant and supple. The interior paste is bone white in color offset by the delicate, predominantly black and gray rind. Mélodie is delicious when eaten young and, like many soft-ripening cheeses, develops more complex flavors for up to 60-100 days. Flavors are accessibly mild and cream-like, with a gentle lactic tang and a very pleasant balance of salt on the finish.

Saxon Homestead Creamery

Located just north of Milwaukee, close to the shores of Lake Michigan, Saxon Homestead Creamery was founded by Karl and Robert Klessig and their brother-in-law, Jerry Heimerl, in 2005.

Having owned a traditional dairy farm on the site for many years, the brothers wanted to adapt their method of farming to allow for their cows to range freely on pasture. It was also their vision to use milk from their own herd to develop a cheesemaking facility on site. This they have achieved, and Saxon Homestead Creamery makes a range of cow's milk cheeses such as Greenfields, Big Ed's, Pastures, Saxony and Meadows.

To add to their repertoire, Saxon is also collaborating with nearby LaClare Farm. Owned by Larry Hedrich, LaClare is a small-scale goat dairy with extremely high milk quality standards. The does have room to exercise and graze on pasture, and are fed whole grains and other foods that goats love.

Big Ed's

Made to the recipe of a mountain-style cheese, Big Ed's is a cooked, pressed cheese made from raw cow's milk and weighing in at about 15lbs. The rind is smooth, thin and golden-brown in color, imprinted with the Saxon logo. The texture of Big Ed's is dense and smooth and ivory in color. Aromas are clean and mild. Flavors are mild, rich, milky and clean with notes of brown butter and caramel.

Green Fields

Aged for 70 days, Green Fields is an unpressed, semifirm, washed rind cheese made from raw cow's milk. The interior paste of the cheese is a pale, creamy yellow, becoming darker towards the rind. The texture is dense and slightly flaky, yet supple. Although flavors vary somewhat with the seasons, generally the cheeses taste clean and lactic, with notes of butter, caramel and grass.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Capricho de Cabra

By Janet Fletcher: As trite as it may sound to Bay Area diners by now, a warm goat cheese salad rarely disappoints anyone. Fresh goat cheese becomes soft and spreadable when warmed, not stringy like mozzarella or stiff like Gruyere. When I was a cook at Chez Panisse many years ago, I made hundreds of baked goat cheese salads, which called for coating disks of goat cheese in olive oil and fine breadcrumbs. These days, being lazy, I will sometimes put a disk of unbreaded goat cheese in an olive oil-rubbed ramekin and warm it in the oven until it softens, then spread it on baguette toasts to accompany salad.

My new favorite cheese for this sort of use is Capricho de Cabra, a silky-textured fresh goat cheese from Spain. Call it chevre if you like, but that's the French word for goat cheese. I like the word "capricho," which, like the English caprice, suggests something that seemed like a good idea at the time. In fact, when I investigated the word's etymology, I learned that "caprice" derives from the Latin for "goat." Before it came to mean a whim, caprice referred to a goat's leap.

Based in the Spanish region of Murcia, the Capricho de Cabra producer also makes Caña de Oveja and Caña de Cabra, two fine cheeses occasionally available in the Bay Area. According to Brad Dube, who works for the importer Forever Cheese, the producer is the largest goat cheese maker in Spain. Size does not often correlate positively with quality, but this simple, fresh cheese more than meets expectations.

Retailers cut it into disks, but Capricho comes to them as a snow-white, rindless, Cryovac-packaged log weighing 1 kilo (a little more than 2 pounds). It smells clean and pure, with no gaminess, and it drifts across the tongue, leaving a lighter, smoother, moister and more mellow impression than most young goat cheeses. It has none of the chalky quality or gumminess that can inflict some fresh chevres, making them feel like bad peanut butter. Dube attributes the lush texture to the high fat content of the Murciana breed's milk, but careful handling of the curd probably also has something to do with it.

I like to scrape the surface of the Capricho with a table knife to make creamy, buttery curls. Warmed in an oiled ramekin, it is irresistible. Serve it with a green salad, some walnut bread and any dry wine that isn't too big. For a white, pour a Spanish Verdejo; if you prefer red, a Spanish Garnacha. 


Manchego cheese is probably the most widely known Spanish sheep’s milk cheese in the world. For centuries the tradition of aging curds in esparto grass molds has given the wheels an easily recognizable zig zag pattern on the rind. The paste inside has a firm, compact consistency and a buttery texture, which often contains small, unevenly-distributed air pockets. The colour of the cheeses vary from white to ivory-yellow, and the inedible rind from straw yellow to burnt umber. Manchego has a distinctive flavour, nutty, well developed but not too strong, with a slight piquancy that nearly demands some Spanish Red wine.

True Manchego cheese is made purely from whole milk of the Manchega sheep raised in the "La Mancha" region. La Mancha is a high, dry, and vast, plateau, more than 2000 feet above sea level in Central Spain. Together they form a square that connects the southern provinces of 
Ciudad Real and Albacete to Toledo, Cuenca, in the heart of Espana.  

La Mancha is an agricultural area with some fertile land mixed with rocky outcrops, and an extremely dry climate due to the height of the plateau. The variable rainfall, summer heat and winter frosts mean that the plant life throughout the region is naturally restricted to hardy plants with a tough constitution.

Manchego cheese has a long historic and literary tradition, it was mentioned by Cervantes in the legendary "Don Quixote of La Mancha". Today, there are two types of Manchego cheese: the farmhouse type, or Artisan, made with unpasteurized sheep's milk and the industrial type, made with pasteurized milk. In both cases, however, milk from Manchega sheep is the only type used.

La Mancha is a region with a long live-stock breeding tradition. Wool and animal bones have been found in some archeological sites, as well as different utensils used to produce cheese as early as the Second Century BC.

Early Roman historians wrote about the live-stock farming in the peninsula, especially in "Acampo Espartario", the name given by Romans to the region of La Mancha. Muslims inhabited the area from the Eighth to Eleventh Centuries, naming it "Manyá", meaning "land without water". With time the name would transform into "Mangla" or "Mancla", and finally "Mancha" around the Thirteenth Century.

Manchego has variety of different flavours depending on its age.
  • Fresco – the fresh cheese is aged for only 2 weeks, with a rich but mild flavour. Produced in small quantities, it is rarely found outside Spain. 
  • Curado is a semi-firm cheese aged for three to six months with a sweet and nutty flavour. 
  • Viejo, aged for one year is firm with a sharper flavour the longer it is aged and a rich deep pepperiness to it.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Sainte-Maure de Touraine

Sainte Maure de Touraine cheese - commonly called "Sainte Maure" - originates from the former Touraine Province of France. This soft cheese has a distinctive, complex flavour, but mainly differs from other fresh chèvre's by being more firm and less spreadable as it ages, with a crust of bluish-gray surface mold.

A classic goat cheese with the defining feature of rye straw running through the center that originally helped hold the cheese in shape, but now it’s more traditional than anything. Producers engrave the straw with their name to ensure quality control. The cheese is almost two pounds, which represents the milk output of a goat in a single day (around two liters). In order to legally call your cheese Sainte-maure-de-Touraine it must be made from the milk of goats who live and eat in the Touraine area of the Loire valley. 
The cheese is rubbed with a mixture of salt and wood ash to form the rind. It has a short aging period of about 10 days, at which point the chalk white cheese has a smooth texture and fresh, mildly goaty taste. The rind adds just a bit of zing.

Summer is the best season for goat cheeses. Not only are they generally on the fresher side, they also tend to be lower in fat than their cow and sheep’s milk counterparts. As such, they have the light, refreshing flavor you’re looking for when temperatures start to climb. Plus they pair well with summer produce like tomatoes and zucchini. Try with  a light and fruity red wine, Bourgueil, Chinon, Gamay and Cabernet d'Anjou, or a dry white wine from Touraine.


Valençay is one of the classic raw milk mold-ripened chèvres from the town of Valencay, in the Loire Valley of France. The texture is smooth and dense with a mild, lemony, and altogether clean flavor. Made by allowing the curd to drain into a mold, it is then removed and covered with salted charcoal ash and allowed to ripen for about 4 to 6 weeks. During this period the rind of the Valencay will thicken slightly and acquire blue marks.

The AOC regulations for this cheese require raw milk, and most Valencay is aged less than the 60 days that the U.S. government demands for raw-milk cheese. As a result, true AOC Valencay should be unavailable here, yet I still see the pyramids at cheese counters. Some of this cheese is pasteurized and thus not entitled to the Valencay name. It will be similar in character and may be quite as good, but it will have a made-up name like "Tradition du Berry." (Berry is the French region from which Valencay comes.)

At the cheese counter, look for a Valencay that borders on scary, with a funky, wrinkled rind and substantial gray and white mold development. When young, the chalk-white cheeses are coated with gray ash, and then numerous molds colonize on them. With age, they will become molten just under the rind, creamy toward the center and firm at the core. The paste should have salt and tang in just the right proportions, with a faintly nutty flavor and no hint of ammonia. Pair with a Loire Sauvignon Blanc, Sancerre or Chablis.

The Loire Valley

The glorious Loire Valley in central France is rich in history, architecture and cuisine. Its sophisticated cities, luxuriant landscapes, magnificent foods, and superb wines add up to a bourgeois paradise. Orleans was France’s intellectual capital in the 13th century, attracting artists, poets and troubadours to the Royal Court. But this medieval court was fickle, never staying in one place for too long, which led to the building of magnificent châteaux all along the Loire River. Because of it’s beautiful forests rich with game, the kings and nobility made this area the preferred habitat for their fairytale castles. 

Renowned for these regal relics, the lush Loire Valley is justly called the Garden of France. Famous for its vast array of remarkable vineyards, and fine wines, it is also home to a stunning diversity of the worlds most renouned goat cheeses. The quaint villages on either side of the Loire River produce a dazzling array of various sizes and shapes.

Domestic goats contributed to the peak of the "Neolithic revolution", the period in history when humans ceased to live only by hunting and gathering and began to settle and develop agriculture . Among the first domesticated animals, goats differ from other livestock species by high genetic homogeneity on a global scale. Archaeologists and geneticists have shown that movements of domestic goats began as early as the expansion of farming, in the Middle East to Europe, 10,500 years ago.

The process of making goat cheese was probably brought to France in the 8th century by the Saracens, inhabitants of the desert around Syria. Defeated at Poitiers, the Saracens were subesequently expelled from France, leaving behind their goats and the recipes for making incredible cheese from goats milk. There are over a 100 varieties of goat cheese in France, the majority of which are produced along the fertile banks of the Loire River. 

There are six AOC (Appellation d'Origine Controlee) cheeses in the Loire Region: Sainte-Maure de Touraine, Selles-sur-Cher, Valencay, Pouligny-Saint-Pierre, Chabichou du Poitou and Crottin de Chavignol. An AOC label indicates quality and guarantees that a product has been made within a specified region of France following established methods of production. There are currently 42 French cheeses with AOC status.

Valencay cheese looks like a small black pyramid. It is purported that the shape of the cheese was originally a perfect pyramid. But when Napoleon returned from a disastrous campaign in Egypt he stopped at Valencay Castle, the cheese reminded him of the Egyptian pyramids and in a fury he chopped of the top of the cheese with his sword. The Valencay goat's cheese has a rind of natural mould, covered with salted powdered charcoal.

Sainte-Maure de Touraine is a blue-grey mould covered long truncated log of goat's cheese. The cheese is mature, balanced, round with salt, sourness and an aroma of walnut. 

Selles-sur-Cher also has a rind of natural mould covered with powdered and salted charcoal. The pate is hard at first, then moist, heavy and clay-like as it blends and melts in the mouth. The taste is slightly sour and salty with a touch of sweetness. A glass of Sancerre or Pouilly Fume accompanies this cheese beautifully. 

Pouligny-Saint-Pierre nicknamed the Eiffel Tower or Pyramid because if its shape. The rind is of natural mould. The pate is a soft moist white and crumbly. The taste is at first sour and salty followed by sweetness. 

Chabichou du Poitou has a thin rind of white, yellow or blue mould and a delicate slightly sweet flavor. 

Crottin de Chavignol known as Chavignol is hard black and knobbly on the surface, and the taste is a balance of sourness, sweetness and a little salt.
The three varieties of Crottin de Chavignol: (R to L) sec, demi-sec, frais. The "frais" or "fresh" is the most mild, while the "sec" or "dry" and older, has a stronger flavor.

Chabichou du Poitou

Chabichou du Poitou is made in a limited geographic area above the chalky limestone soils of Poitou. Taller and leaner than its Loire Valley counterparts, this AOC protected cheese presents a white rind tinged with gray-blue, concealing a dense, clay-like interior. The surprisingly rich, mouth-coating paste is the perfect counterpoint to acid and effervescence. Try with fresh, tart cherries or a crisp, bubbly Cava. Available throughout the year, but the best are made from spring to autumn.

Legend traces Chabichou du Poitou back to the eighth century. It would have been produced by Saracens abandoned by the fleeing armies after the defeat at Poitiers in 732 by Charles Martel. The word "Chabi", short for Chabichou, is a corruption of "Cheblis" which means goat in Arabic.

The Arab armies were composed at that time not only warriors but also any kind of cohort servants with goats, poultry, etc.. When, after the battle of Poitiers, the soldiers abandoned the fields in hopes of finding better fortune elsewhere, many, no doubt, were the servants, with their families and their herds of goats who remained on site. The countryside provided excellent pasture quality and goats gave rich milk in abundance. Those ancient "Cheblis" were the great grandparents of the "Chevre's" we know today. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Gorgonzola Piccante

“Gorgonzola Piccante", a formidable cow’s milk blue cheese from the mountains north of Milan, is Italy’s answer to Roquefort. Its rough, reddish rind protects a tender, light yellow, blue-flecked paste that is firm, moist, and buttery. Unimaginably creamy, spicy and buttery, the flavor is sharp, sweet, and goes on and on, like an echo cascading down the Italian alps. 

There are many tales about the origin of this great cheese from Lombardy, but until the early twentieth century it was known simply as 'stracchino' or 'stracchino verde' - a cheese made from the milk of cattle tired from their long spring and fall treks to and from the Alpine pasture.

One gorgonzola legend that claims an innkeeper in the town of Gorgonzola had too much cheese developing mold on it and questioned whether they were still any good. Unable to absorb the potential loss, he served the Cheese anyway. His customers liked it so much, they had to increase production and give them time to mold. 

A More likely history is that the overall production from the stracca cows was too much milk to hold, so it was made into cheese and stored in caves where they would naturally go blue over time. The method (still used today) starts with producing curd from an evening milking, allowing it to settle overnight and topping it with curd from the morning milking. Cheeses are then pierced to accelerate the veining (referred to as parsley or erborinato) of the Penicillium glaucom bacteria. 

This cheese is at once mild in texture and bold in flavor. Pair Gorgonzola Piccante with a sweet Italian dessert wine.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Asiago Stravecchio

Asiago cheese from the Veneto Region of Italy is controlled by the DOP (Denominazione di Origine Protetta) rules of that country and hence must meet the defined quality standards. Imported aged Asiago is one of the better values in the cheese case, delivering abundant character at under $15 a pound. It costs money to age cheese, not only in the inventory cost but also in the moisture loss and consequent weight loss that occur over time. The payoff is flavor: more aromatic compounds, concentration and a longer finish.

A cow's milk cheese made for centuries in the high plains of northeastern Italy, near Vicenza, Asiago has historically been aged, sometimes as long as two years. But to accommodate modern demand for a sweeter, milder cheese, Asiago producers now make a range of styles.

Fresh Asiago, is typically only about a month old, it can offer aromas of sweet milk and fresh grass. For aged wheels, producers use partly skimmed raw milk. (The fresh wheels are made with whole milk.) The curds are cooked to a higher temperature than they are for the unaged wheels, so the curds expel more moisture. After the curds are transferred to molds, they are pressed to drive off yet more whey, then they are salted -- either with dry salt or brine. Finally, they head to the aging room where they spend anywhere from three months to a year or more.

When released at three to five months, Asiago is known as mezzano, or medium-aged. After nine months in the aging cellars, it's entitled to be called vecchio (literally, old). The color of the cheese will deepen with age, but at the mezzano stage, you can expect a firm, golden interior with few or no eyes.

The aroma is initially fruity -- think dried apples and citrus peel -- followed by faintly nutty, brown-butter or caramel notes. A highly savory cheese, aged Asiago dissolves slowly on the tongue, leaving behind a balanced impression of sweetness, salt and acidity. As it matures, it becomes more piquant and spicy.

Most people would probably reach for a big red wine with aged Asiago. A fruity red with moderate tannins, such as a young Merlot, would work, but sparkling wine would be an equally successful and less conventional choice.

Caciotta al Tartufo

Caciotta al Tartufo is made with pasteurized cow and sheep milk from my favorite  region of Italy, Umbria. Within the Umbrian mountains, famous for their black truffles, Cacioatta comes from a sleepy town called Norcia. The color of this rindless, semi-soft cheese is pale with small speckles of truffles throughout. Mild and aromatic, the richness of the sheep's milk is the perfect vehicle for the earthy, meaty truffles within. Aged about one month, it is perfect for cooking, shaved over vegetables or pasta, or just enjoying on it's own with some charcuteire and crusty Italian bread.

Carre du Berry

Carre du Berry is a goats milk cheese from Berry, in the Loire region of France. This small square, or "carre", is fresh and zesty, partly because it is so young, ripened only about a week. A beautiful addition to any cheese plate, this chevre is lavishly covered with a blend of fresh herbs, peppercorns, and juniper berries. As the cheese ages, the herbs dry, imparting intriguing floral notes to the paste, complementing its creaminess. Although it’s not recommended to eat the floral rind, you will surely be able to taste it in the cheese. Once you bite into this naturally herbed chèvre cake you will see why so many other goat cheese manufacturers attempt to spice up their cheeses with so called herbs de provence and other additives. This is the cheese they are trying to be.

It’s very soft texture resembles that of rich, saltier cream cheese and is heavenly spread on crackers or crusty bread. Add this cheese to any platter for a stunningly woodsy accent and a beautiful flavor profile.

The goats grazing on the pastures of Berry, south of the Loire River produce exceptionally rich milk that contain all of the typical flavor components of fresh goats milk. It is creamy and rich with a tangy finish. The cheese produced is delicious with nuances of clover, herbs, pines and walnuts.

Sunday, April 22, 2012


Selles-sur-Cher is the quintessential AOC-protected goat's milk cheese from the fields around the Loire River in central France. Immediately recognized by its dramatically dark, charcoal covering, this light dusting of ash on small discs attracts beneficial mold, protecting the subtle, gentle interior of the cheese. The tapered shaped molds are filled with a ladle, failure to break the curd helps to ensure all the finesse of the original paste. Maturing lasts ten days (minimum) to three weeks.

The rind ranges from black to dark blue with a pure white porcelain paste. Slightly goaty to the nose, the taste is sweet and nutty, with a touch of citrus. Primarily an after-dinner cheese best served with its terroir wines: a dry white, Touraine white or a light and fruity red. Presented in thin slices, it can also be served as an aperitif. It is important not to scrape the crust: it is what gives the cheese its special character. Very decorative, Selles-sur-Cher brings a fresh note to a cheese buffet.

Le Chevrot

Le Chevrot is a small cylindrical goat cheese with a dense, semi-soft texture and generous, complex flavors typically found in well-aged goat cheeses. Don't judge it by it's wrinkly rind! Inside lies a rich and creamy center that will delight all palates. The particular aging of this cheese - it might look old, but it's actually quite young- makes Chevrot's flavor incredibly complex and rich. It's not too pungent or "goaty", so this is a perfect choice for even those who claim not to like goat cheese. These petite rounds are made by Sevre et Belle; a small cooperative in the village of Celles-sur-Belle in Western France, founded in 1893.

Like many cheeses from the area, Le Chevrot has been described as a French masterpiece. It is an unquestionably superb goat’s milk cheese, handmade near the province of Poitou (which borders the Loire Valley to the southwest) with a fresh, buttery, faintly winy taste, and an inviting aroma of ripe figs. It is also known for having a distinct freshness of flavor and a supple, lush quality that is nothing short of magnificent, with a slightly nutty, almost fermented taste that borders on the addictive. The wrinkly rind is edible; eating it will strengthen the flavor of Le Chevrot. The cheese itself is moderately aged and serves as an excellent compromise between mild taste and rich texture. Its flavor intensifies when grilled, and in fact, broiled Chevre is the basis of a delicious Chevre salad popular throughout France. The serving of this particular salad is often performed to mark the beginning of the spring season. Serve with Pouilly-Fume or Sancerre from the Loire Valley.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


Produced by Fromagerie des Chaumes at Mauléon, in southwestern France, Etorki, or "origin" in Basque, is a pasteurized sheep's milk cheese. Native, black- or red-faced Manech sheep have lived in the region for centuries and produce very high quality milk that is ideal for cheesemaking. It takes a total of six gallons of milk to produce just one wheel of Etorki, sourced from the flocks of local shepherds and dairy farmers.

Production of Etorki requires the curds to be pressed but not cooked. After unmolding, cheeses are placed in a brine solution for two hours before being dried and dry salted (salt rubbed on the exterior) several times during the first week. Cheeses produced at the factory are then vacuum-packed and matured at a low temperature (39°F) in order to produce a slow maturation for a period of three to six months.

The texture is supple, velvety, and voluptuous on the tongue. The paste is ivory to golden, pocked with occasional holes or slits. The aroma is earthy, with rich, sweet notes of hazelnut and caramel.

Vento d'Estate

Vento d'Estate (VEN-to dess-TAH-tay) debuted less than 10 years ago but already has a considerable American following. This striking cheese is herbal and fruity, with nutty notes and a tangy finish. Its complexity is partially due to its treatment: Wheels are stacked in wooden wine barrels to age, cushioned by clean green hay, giving it a lovely aroma.

The name means "summer wind," an evocative moniker for a cheese with a pronounced herbaceous aroma. The wheels are aged under a blanket of hay, a procedure that cheesemaker Antonio Carpenedo dreamed up -- according to company lore -- when he and his wife Giuseppina were driving along a country road and found themselves behind a hay wagon. The grassy scent was so pleasant that they stopped the driver, bought some hay and started their cheese experiments.

La Casearia, the Carpenedo family firm that created Vento d'Estate, is based in northeastern Italy, in the Treviso region. The company has a history of cheesemaking invention. Its first product, a resounding success, was Ubriaco (meaning "drunkard"), a cow's milk cheese steeped in red wine. More than 20 years later, in the late 1990s, the company introduced Vento d'Estate, a 5-pound wheel made from pasteurized milk and matured under hay in oak barrels.

The wheels have a waxy rind artfully adorned with bits of hay. The paste is ivory to straw colored, firm, dense and crumbly, with an aroma that mingles grass and sour milk. The flavor is moderately sharp, but it leaves a strong sourish impression. Vento d'Estate needs a generous red wine to stand up to it, rich with fruit but not overly tannic.

Monday, April 16, 2012


Brebiou is a semi-soft, pasteurized sheep’s milk cheese from the Pyrenees region of France. The interior paste is milky white and smooth; it is solid and unmarred by holes or cracks. To the touch, the paste is smooth and squishy.

In contrast, Brebiou’s bloomy rind is deeply cratered, dry and firm to the touch. The rustic rind also shows markings from the linen wrappings and bowl-shaped mold used during its production. The rind has a light musty odor.

This cheese is gentle, not overly complex. The flavors are brief and simple–a light sourness and mild saltiness. Brebiou’s semi-soft consistency is creamy, smooth and nice on the tongue.