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Posts Filed Under The ‘Italian Cheese’ Category

Thursday, November 7th, 2013

The Mediterranean Sun

photo 1 e1383866904359 The Mediterranean Sun

Just got my cholesterol levels checked. HDL 106, LDL 51. Great genes, certainly, yet all the cheese I am consuming does not appear to be hurting. The Mediterranean diet that I prefer may help: more fresh fruits and vegetables, fish and olive oil, cheese (definitely) and less red meat. We often hear about that Mediterranean diet but somehow cheese is not usually mentioned as one of its parts.

Cheese most certainly is a part of that “diet.” The highest per capita cheese consumption occurs all around the Mediterranean and on many islands within. We tend to try to bring it down to one or two things, like fish and red wine, and the same holds true with explanations why certain nutrients, like vitamin C, accomplish their stated claims. Most nutritionists recognize that many players are involved in the success of the Med diet.

The 2013 Epcot Food and Wine Festival ends this weekend and our cheese series closes with a Mediterranean theme, which of course means there will be some goat and sheep milk cheeses, as well as one cow cheese, all of them from within and around that wonderful sea.

Just wanted to make sure we got a full complement of those delicious nutrients.

A part of what makes that “diet” succeed is the pace at which one enjoys the foods and wines. The pace in central Florida is a bit slower than the one here in New York, though not as slow as the Mediterranean. This weekend is not going to be that slow however. The Epcot festival’s Saturday morning cheese and wine tasting will be sandwiched between a pairing session Friday night at Orlando’s La Femme de Fromage and an early afternoon Flying Fish Café luncheon, complete with its own cheese course.

This time of year the Mediterranean sounds wonderful – the thoughts of warmer, sunnier climes replete with Mediterranean cheeses and wines. So if you’re not headed that way, or to central Florida either, we have a couple of classes planned for you: Italian Cheese and Wine this Saturday, and French Cheese and Wine on Sunday, the 17th. Both classes will be held at Alison Eighteen, 3:00-5:00.

- Max McCalman

Tuesday, October 8th, 2013

October Fest at Epcot

maxepcot 1 e1381258741746 October Fest at Epcot

Epcot is celebrating its eighteenth annual Food & Wine Festival this year and we are proud to have been a part of this gourmet celebration since 1998. Each year we have presented seminars every weekend, each session highlighting the cheeses and wines of a country: France, Italy, Spain and the United States. A couple of years ago we added a few other themes to the Saturday morning events so that we could include other countries known less for their wines but held in high regard for cheese, such as Switzerland, England, Holland and others. We also wanted to expand the options so that guests would keep coming back for more.

We have long witnessed the growing popularity of cheese and wine in the United States, and more recently, the fast-growing popularity of craft beers. We debated the idea of switching one of the seven Saturday sessions from wine and cheese to beer and cheese. This year we finally made the leap and judging from the way last weekend’s session was received, the craft beer week will be around for quite awhile. And if it was going to be our first beer week, why not make it in October, especially if it’s early October in central Florida, temperatures outside reaching the mid-80’s?

As is often the case, the beers paired very well with all the cheeses. This is usually the case with wines as well but a good beer is almost a “given” when paired with a good cheese.

Why so few mismatches with beer?

There are a couple reasons why beers rarely miss with cheese. Most beers are a little less acid than most wines; this gives beers better pH harmony with cheeses. Cheeses are also a little acid, but not nearly as acid as most wines. Beers also lack the astringency that red wines possess – the tannin factor that can disrupt what might have been a good match with a cheese. Beers also have their effervescence that refreshes the palate when cheese is in the mix. Those bubbles lift up the butterfats, swirl them around, and the gentle acidity breaks them down delightfully.

All this is not to discount the “size” consideration, as in the overall flavor profile of a cheese or beer. The lighter flavored cheeses paired better with the lighter beer, while the bigger flavored cheeses paired better with the bigger beer.

Like the CheeseClock™ indicates, the bigger the cheese, the bigger the beer should be.

- Max McCalman

Wednesday, September 25th, 2013

Mickey Likes Cheese

Viva Italia e1380135902940 Mickey Likes Cheese

Boy does he ever! The first time I was invited to speak at the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival was a sell-out, with people lined up around the outside of the Odyssey hoping to squeeze in. What seemed like it might be a routine Cheese and Wine 101 ended up being a major production for the Disney cast. A wine tasting alone is merely that: a “tasting” of wine. When you throw the cheese into the mix the fun (and the work) begins. Cast members who were more familiar with the small pours a wine tasting requires needed a little encouragement. As we know, cheese has a way of bringing out the thirst. While I was busy in the back helping prepare the plates of cheese, the wine was being poured in one ounce portions. This was rectified.

Meanwhile the cheese display on the dais was set up beautifully, with cameras ready to close in on their various textures, ready to relay those close-ups onto oversize monitors. All was coming together fairly well, until the lights came up. Within the first half hour the cheeses were starting to droop; I could see it happening, very distracting. By the end of the tasting even the aged Gouda was looking a little Raclette-like.

The festival gets rolling again this coming weekend and I will be there Saturday morning conducting the first cheese and wine seminar of the 45-day festival. The first week’s cheese and wine seminar will highlight the cheeses and wines of France – a popular session. I return the following weekend for a session focusing on cheeses from here in the U.S. (where most of the cheese excitement is occurring these days) paired with beers – a first for the festival. I have wanted to feature a cheese and beer session for a while (knowing how devoted those beer lovers can be) so we are now able to include one, and in October!

My colleague, Erin Hedley, will present the cheeses of Spain accompanied by Spanish wines on the third Saturday, October 12th. From that weekend on up to the closing day of the festival November 9th, each session will feature wine with the cheeses, each week themed a little differently. The cheeses and wines of Italy will be featured October 19th. Then to include other important cheese countries such as Holland, England, Switzerland and Portugal, the next weekend will feature “old world” cheeses and wines. The United States gets a second session on November 2nd, this time pairing some other great cheeses with Napa valley wines. The final session features cheeses and wines of the Mediterranean, an appealing thought – the Mediterranean – as the evenings become brisk, even in central Florida.

With all these many years of practice you can be assured that there will be no drooping cheeses on the dais and the wine pours will be generous.

- Max McCalman

Tuesday, August 13th, 2013

Who Says Red Wines Don’t Pair Well with Cheeses?

13931 Large e1376413225258 Who Says Red Wines Don’t Pair Well with Cheeses?

There was a time when most people seemed to insist on red wines with cheeses, or ports. Then there was a flip-flop and many people insisted that white wines were the only ones appropriate for cheeses. I confess that I may have helped contribute to that trend. I have found many more great matches with whites than with reds, yet there are many red wine pairing standouts.

At last week’s Cheese & Wine 101 the reds beat the whites hands down. The Alsatian Riesling scored well (as Rieslings usually do) but the Vacqueyras in which Grenache was the driver succeeded nicely with each of the cheeses: goat, sheep and cow; soft to hard. The Primitivo scored a couple +2’s: with Le Moulis (vache) and with the aged Gouda. This wine was a bit much for the lovely little Rove des Garrigues but everything else paired well, which is no surprise.

I mentioned how well the Riesling paired (except with the Manchego [not bad but not very good either] and with the Echo Mountain [ditto]) yet it scored a couple +2’s as well: with the Roves des Garrigues and with the Taleggio. You can count on Rieslings of any stripe to flatter the wash rind cow cheeses, as well as most of their goat and sheep expressions.

The big disappointment of the evening was the Verdejo—the Rueda. Lovely wine to begin but it faded fast. Excellent on its own and with the Roves des Garrigues, nice with the aged Manchego, then it was headed for the showers.

Overall scores: Reds 16 Whites 10.

Of course this was only seven cheeses and the selections, though diverse, just happened to be selective partners for these four wines, each in their own ways. Interesting to note: none of the matches was bad; which serves as a reminder: in more cases than not, cheeses and wines do pair well with each other.

Go Reds!

- Max McCalman

Wednesday, July 10th, 2013

Day 8

800px Ships wake 2678244614 e1373484493793 Day 8

Dateline: Sea Day, Amalfi to Civitavecchia
Aboard Oceania Cruise Ship, The Riviera

It may not look like a great distance to sail: the final voyage from Amalfi to Civitavecchia. It was a great enough distance to allow for a lovely sea-day – a day during which it appeared we might be sailing around lazily in circles, far from Italy’s western shore. From our window table in the Grand Dining Room I noticed how the ship’s wake curled around behind us, never quite straightening out. With the sun almost directly overhead it was too difficult to tell if this was really happening. There were no land masses or other ships to be able to gauge this, only the relatively placid sea below. Time slows down in the middle of the sea, especially on a warm sunny day.

This was the first and only day that my seminars did not have a port to compete for the passengers’ interest. Many of the Europeans spent most of the cruise under the sun, or so it seemed. Most of the American passengers were interested in the culinary theme of the cruise: a few foodie shore excursions, the afternoon wine tastings, the cooking demonstrations in the Bon Appétit classroom, as well as my sessions on cheese and wine.

This final tasting included some of our favorite Italian cheeses: Robiola Bosina, Pecorino Sardo, Taleggio, Piave, and Gorgonzola Cremificato. The white wine was a Vernacchia — the same varietal we had enjoyed a few days earlier in Olbia but from a different producer, and for the red: a Valpolicella — a blend of Corvina, Molinara and Rondinella. As sprightly and fresh as the Vernacchia was, the Valpolicella was berry-layered and lush. I remembered enjoying the Vernacchia and Pecorino Sardo pairing a bit better in Olbia than I did here though these two expressions still made a delicious blend. The earlier success could be partly attributed to the “being-there” factor as well as Pietro’s warm hospitality, yet also because the Pecorino Sardo I had in Olbia was younger and fresher than this one. Not that I don’t enjoy an aged Pecorino Sardo; it is that the younger fresher-tasting Vernacchia makes a better match for the younger versions of this great cheese.

The session’s beginning cheese, the Robiola Bosina, also paired well with the Vernacchia, but was even better with the Valpolicella. I do not doubt that the cow component in the Bosina made this a factor. Vernacchia is generally a far better wine for goat and sheep milk cheeses (or their blends) than it is for cow cheeses. The Vernacchia met its match with the Taleggio so after the Pecorino it was finished for the day, all the other cheeses made from cow milk.

I recall one of my first “real” Italian restaurant experiences years ago when you could find a nice bottle of Valpolicella for well under $10.00. In a restaurant! I recall how delightful it paired with all the foods we had, and how it was perfectly delightful on its own. This one matched each of these different cheeses beautifully.

We returned to our stateroom to pack for our early disembarkation the following morning. By this time our ship had straightened out and we continued sailing northward. We still had more cheese left in our refrigerator, as well as unfinished wine. Oh my!

- Max McCalman

Monday, July 1st, 2013

Day 6

Port of Livorno pilot boat LI 10143 03 e1372708474767 Day 6

Dateline: Livorno, Italy
Aboard Oceania Cruise Ship, The Riviera

When we sailed into the old port of Livorno early in the morning, the evidence of extensive bombing during World War II remained, even after extensive rebuilding. Yet Livorno is still a major port so whatever restoration took place may not be so evident today. The region surrounding Livorno was relatively untouched, including some of Italy’s favorite destinations: Pisa, Florence, Siena, and the Tuscan countryside. Like Sardegna, the region has more sheep than people.

The Bon Appétit chef on board, Kathryn Kelly, invited us to join her on an excursion to the main market in Livorno, then to a Tuscan winery where we would make pizza, focaccia and biscotti in a wood-burning oven. The idea was to stock up on all the ingredients at the market, and to pick up picnic snacks for the bus ride.

The market had also been mostly destroyed during the war (couldn’t we spare the market?) but was rebuilt almost exactly to its original design in the fifties. Each member of our group was assigned a food to buy. Naturally I got the cheese shopping task. There were at least a dozen stalls focused entirely on cheese, each one specializing on one variety or several. I was only shopping for about twelve people but I couldn’t help myself; I bought enough to cheese to last for days.

I found that young Sardinian goat cheese in Livorno, the one I meant to buy in Olbia. This was the first cheese we shared on the bus ride, and it was sublime. The first taste was faint, but it opened up in the mid-palate, then lingered beautifully creamy in the finish. The other picnic items simply did not measure up. My compatriots helped me finish nearly a kilo of this rustic farmhouse cheese, all of it – including the rind.

I saved the Mozzarella di Bufala for after we got off the bus, just a little too messy for consumption on a fast-moving vehicle. It had just been made earlier that morning, the way we use to receive at Picholine years ago, and just the way it is meant to be eaten. The cheese would have been made outside Naples that morning, then it would be flown to JFK, then we had it to serve to our restaurant’s patrons the same evening.

- Max McCalman

Saturday, June 29th, 2013

Day 5

olbia e1372556905798 Day 5

Dateline: Olbia, Italy
Aboard Oceania Cruise Ship, The Riviera

We docked at Olbia’s port midday after the longish overnight voyage from Marseilles. This was my first visit to the island – the island from which I have tasted many excellent sheep milk cheeses. The Pecorino Sardo has been one of my all-time favorites; something like it has been produced all around the Mediterranean for millennia. The Fiore Sardo is a one-of-a-kind itself, another outstanding cheese from the island.

Sardegna also supports some goats, their cheeses are by nearly as well known. I was determined to find an artisan goat cheese during our short visit on the island. I asked the land agent where I might find some of the best cheeses of Sardegna. At first she suggested supermarkets but I let her know this what not what I had in mind – shopping for cheese in a supermarket. She said she agreed that those were not her favorites either. She pulled out a map of Olbia and drew paths to three different destinations.

Finding an open cheese shop in Europe in the early afternoon is nearly impossible so we waited until later to go ashore on our expedition. The closest shop to where our shuttle dropped us off was more of a tourist restaurant so we kept walking up the old town’s main street, barely wide enough for a single lane of traffic. The town was more tropical than I expected, with palm trees here and there, and very warm sun. The gentle sea breeze made the direct sun tolerable. By 4:00 pm the town seemed to be gradually awakening from its siesta.

When we located the second location recommended it was immediately apparent that this was where we needed to be. The shop’s owner greeted us warmly and offered us samples of whatever cheeses we wanted to taste, as well as a few others I was less interested in trying. All his products were from Sardegna: the cheeses, the honeys, the breads, the nougats, the cork sandals, the wines, and everything else. He told the story of how his grandfather had opened the shop in 1919 in a different building around the corner, and how he had received visitors from around the globe, always offering samples of everything.

My intention was to have a small selection of Sardinian cheese with a little Sardinian wine while in Olbia. (We had already filled up our stateroom’s refrigerator with leftover cheese and wine from previous stops so there was little extra room there.) Serving a little degustation of cheese and wine was not what Pietro was set up to do but this was Sardegna and everything seemed possible, no trouble at all. I picked out the smallest pre-cut piece of a young raw sheep milk cheese I could find, weighing about half a kilo, and a light crisp Vermentino wine. He did not have wine glasses but he did have small plastic cups. He did not have a table either but he did have a couple chairs on the sidewalk in front of the store. Pietro told the men sitting in them to surrender the chairs to his new NYC cheese friends. I was uncomfortable asking these older men to give up their seats but there was no stopping Pietro and they seemed to take it all in stride. When I asked Pietro if the police might give him trouble for serving cheese and wine outside by the street he gave me a look as if to say: are you serious?

He could not sell us just a small chunk of cheese and a couple glasses of Vermentino so we stuffed the remainder in our fridge.

I am sure they will taste fine when we finish them later but probably no where nearly as nice as they did when we had them at Pietro’s shop.

No goat cheese there but I still had a couple more ports to check.

- Max McCalman

Thursday, October 18th, 2012

Have Cheese, Will Travel

Viva Italia 300x227 Have Cheese, Will Travel

I was a guest speaker at the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival last weekend; the theme was “Italian Cheeses and Wines.” Ever since I made my first presentation there back in 1998 the cheese sessions have been some of the most popular seminars of the festival, always hosted by the inimitable Pam Smith.

It is no surprise these cheese seminars are so popular; it follows the dramatic trajectory of cheese appreciation in the US. We may not eat quite as much cheese as the Italians but we are catching up rapidly. Speaking of formaggi, we have some drop-dead gorgeous cheeses from Italy at this time, each of them screamin’ to be eaten. Along with the cheeses we presented last weekend at Epcot we have some that we see less frequently, such as a wash-rind Quadro di Bufala – a variation on the infamous Taleggio (which is also looking great now) made with cow milk. It turns out that making the cheese with Buffalo milk works especially well; the high butterfat content makes this version especially scrumptious.

Another cheese that we see rarely that is in peak form now is the Robiola Pura Capra. The Robiola family of northern Italian cheeses is vast; there are so many styles of Robioli that it is difficult to describe the group. Safe to say, they are made in northwest Italy, particularly in the Piemonte (foothills of the Italian Alps); they can be made from any combination of cow, goat, sheep or buffalo milk; they come in small formats; and they are usually consumed on the young side. Other than that, there is little else you can say that describes Robiola; different types of rinds make a huge difference in their aromas and flavors, as much as the milk choices themselves.

One of the more popular Robiolas is one made with all three (cow, sheep and goat) milks – the Robiola 3 Latti – the best of all three worlds, all blended together. Blending the milks elevates the overall flavor of the cheese, while moderating some of the qualities in any one of those milks that some people may find less pleasing. By the way, these mixed milk cheeses exhibit tremendous pairing potential with many wine types.

Last weekend at Epcot we had a Robiola 2 Latti (cow and sheep blend) that paired magnificently with a white wine of the region – Arneis. This was a bit of a surprise for me, even considering that they are made in the same region. That same cheese paired well with an Amarone from the northeast of Italy. Then, Amarone is a cheese-friendly wine most of the time.

This coming weekend we will be presenting cheeses and wines from France. A tasting of French cheeses would not be complete without Comté, another cheese looking great in our caves now. Comté is one of those more assertive cheeses that generally pairs better with white wines, the best one being an unusual varietal of the region – Savagnin. No two Comtés are the same; this is one of the great things about this magnificent cheese: each wheel is distinctive. The regulations for its production are strict, and strictly enforced. This is what differentiates them: plenty of land for the animals to graze upon, milk collected within a short distance from where the cheeses are produced and ripened, and no pasteurization equipment is permitted in the cheese-making plant – the fruitière – by law.

In case I don’t see you at Epcot this weekend maybe you can enjoy some Comté and several other lovely French cheeses here at the Center. My colleague Erin Hedley has just a few seats available in her class Saturday afternoon.

Cheese is on the move.

Max McCalman