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We do not usually call them “ewe’s milk cheeses” because of the way that sounds. “You’s” is heard around these parts a little too often. Calling them “ewe milk cheeses” does not sound much better. Calling them “sheep milk cheeses” is commonly accepted, as is “goat milk cheeses.” Neither the sheep nor the goat (the guys) produce the milk but the female names, ewes and does, are both problematic. Think of “does milk cheeses.”
How would you read that?
So much for “you’s milk cheese.”
I have seen many people completely enthralled by sheep milk cheeses. People seem to love them, or most do. There are only a handful of people who cannot tolerate sheep cheeses, including, surprisingly, a judge in a recent national cheese competition. For her it had to be cow and cow only.
Cheese suffers in so many ways.
The different species’ milks are a little less distinctive. Yet when you convert those milks into cheese, their different aromas, flavors and textures begin to diverge.
If there were only one adjective that defines goat cheeses from sheep or cow it would be “chalky.” If there were only one for cow cheeses it would be “buttery.” For sheep cheeses I would say “olive.” Maybe not an adjective but it conveys a distinction. Not that each of those milks does not at times have the other qualities – these are only the main descriptors.
Everything may be better with a little butter on it, but chalk? This could be one of the challenges goat cheese face with some people. Chalk is not so easy to swallow. Olive oil may be the easiest to appreciate. That olive oil note comes partly from the higher butterfats in sheep milk. The butterfat contents can be nearly twice as high as those in goat or cow. Some Spanish sheep milk cheese labels promote the cheeses underneath as “Extra Graso,” as in “extra greasy.” Yum!
No wonder we love them.
Sheep milk also contains more protein, another source of some of the wonderful aromas (wonderful for most of us) that sheep milk cheeses can offer.
When the milk is converted into cheeses and the cheeses are allowed to age, the relative protein and fat contents can be more closely lined up. The water content in cow milk averages about 87% of total weight, similar in goat, while sheep milk typically averages around 80%. Simply stated, sheep milk has more solids.
While this does not fully explain why we love sheep milk cheeses, all those butterfats and proteins do play a big role in the way sheep milk cheeses taste and smell, as well as in how they feel. During the fermentation processes of cheese making the proteins and fats break down into distinct flavors and more volatile aromatics. The lively aromas that arise from sheep milk cheeses are appealing to most people. The extra fat is appealing, though many people consider this to be an indulgence.
I would argue that this extra fat is not at all an indulgence but a wholesome attribute.
The fat works well with many wines too. I have found fewer wine “challengers” from among different sheep milk cheeses than I have for goat or cow. This is a broad generalization but considering how the acids in wines, beers or hard ciders work with fats, it should be little surprise that sheep milk cheeses enjoy so many tremendous synergies with those fermented beverages. Looking at three recent cheese and wine score sheets, the sheep milk cheeses all paired well with each of the wines. This is not to say that there can’t be outstanding matches with cow or goat, or with water buffalo cheeses.
Plus, those extra solids in sheep milk indicate higher overall nutritive values, including those derived from those wholesome butterfats. I firmly believe that our bodies know a good food when we eat it, which is one reason why we keep going back for more cheese, and why sheep cheeses in particular are often chosen to be favorites from within a mix.
Some cheese experts insist on calling them “ewe’s milk cheeses” but wouldn’t this have read a little silly if “ewe” was substituted for “sheep” all the way through?
If you was…?
- Max McCalman
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
Zamorano holds the distinction of being the last cheese in our inventory’s alphabet, for what that may be worth. A name that begins with “z” can be lost, as in a large graduation ceremony. Some cheeses are worth the wait, and Zamorano is certainly one of those. I have had a special fondness for this cheese ever since I first tasted it back in the mid-nineties. From my description in Cheese, a Connoisseur’s Guide to the World’s Best: “This is a noble, ancient, and majestic cheese…a good Zamorano [which is exactly what we have in our caves right now] has the same dignified bearing as Beaufort or Parmesan.”
Zamorano is at its peak this time of year, and will remain so for the next few months. The ones we have now have had sufficient aging but not too much. Even with the extra aging it is still a marvelous cheese, so long as it is one crafted from uncompromised milk. The Zamorano fits into Autumn very nicely, not only because it is at peak but also because it pairs so well with the wines of the season: red Burgundies and American Pinot Noirs, Ribera del Dueros, Alsatian Rieslings, Periquitas, Moulin-à-Vents, as well as Oloroso. Zamorano also pairs well with lighter white wines such as: Albariños and Pouilly-Fumés. Having recently noted how well a similarly-made cheese (Roncal) paired with hard ciders, you can expect there will be some synergies there as well.
Zamorano needs no wine partner; this cheese holds up just fine on its own. I recall thinking how “proud” it was. Please excuse the anthropomorphosis here but the recollection was of a time when another cheese had fallen over onto a wedge of Zamorano. A colleague asked if this might be a problem – that the cheeses were touching. This became a line I would share with my fellow fromagers: the cheeses are touching. I informed the concerned colleague that the Zamorano was “proud” and did not particularly care if another cheese needed its support.
I gave Zamorano a score of “90” in Cheese, a Connoisseur’s Guide to the World’s Best – not sure what I was thinking. Maybe it was because it was the last cheese in the book, kind of like being at the end of a graduation ceremony.
- Max McCalman
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
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.
- Max McCalman
On our home page tool bar you will find “Beverage Pairings” under the “Entertaining” dropdown. A couple of words about this:
Each cheese on our website is assigned a varietal, just one. However there are often many wine types that pair successfully with a particular cheese. Some cheeses seem to pair well with any wine we throw their way. Isn’t there a name for those types of cheeses? Lush cheeses?
Regardless, one varietal is given – a varietal we agree is a successful match with the cheese in question. We are in the process of adding other varietals in the full description of each cheese so you can check each for additional wine matches.
Pairing cheese and wine is a little subjective yet there are some principles of successful food and beverage pairings that help create great matches. One of the fundamental principles of these success stories is simple: the bigger flavored cheeses pair more successfully with the bigger flavored wines. This is what the CheeseClock™ pairing tool is all about. Conversely, lighter cheeses are generally more successful with lighter wines.
Sometimes it seems that some of the strongest cheeses meld better with the lightest of wines, like a 180º counterweight. Some of the strongest cheeses seem to butt heads with the bolder wines. When this happens the cheese invariable comes out on top. In more cases than not, cheeses and wines do pair well together. The successes arise far more often than the misses. And again, there is a level of subjectivity in this.
So watch for additional wine pairing recommendations to appear in our updated cheese descriptions. You will find entries for beers and other beverages too.
- Max McCalman
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.
The Comté Cheese Association has invited me to come by for a visit. This will be my first visit to this land of cheese royalty so I am particularly excited; this mountainous region is home to heavenly cheese. The name is virtually synonymous with “fromage;” Comté is what many Frenchmen think of when they think of cheese. Were we that lucky!
Edward Behr, publisher of the excellent the Art of Eating called me down for not including Comté in Cheese, a Connoisseur’s Guide to the World’s Best. This was a gross oversight of course. Maybe I took Comté for granted; the flavors may be quite familiar if it is a cheese that has been widely imitated. Yet if you close your eyes and take in all that a morsel of Comté can deliver, those flavors and aromas can resonate distinctly, delicious all the way through to the “finish.” Each wheel is unique, which is part of the beauty of this cheese – it would be difficult to ignore the differences among wheels of Comté, some more subtle than others. These variations make it a little difficult to generalize about what kinds of wines work with Comté; then again it also makes it a little easier to recommend a wine: try any of your favorite wines and see what happens when you pair it with Comté.
I recall experiencing more successes with white wines, more than reds, with Comté. I believe this is due to the many flavor/aroma dimensions of Comté; elevated tannins in the red wines can be a bit fussy with all that complexity. The white wines can be a little more tolerant of those layers of flavor; the tannins do not get in the way.
Comté is used extensively in cooking, able to add a profound accent on many dishes. The cheese can be enjoyed on its own, which is the way I have had Comté most every time. I recall seeing an older woman walking up to a cheese stall in a market in Nice. The fromagère knew exactly what her customer wanted – 100 grams of a young Comté. Today, many cheese lovers have acquired a taste for the more aged versions; the younger cheeses may seem to lack that “wow” factor.
On another occasion I witnessed a couple of Bordeaux wine makers snacking on Comté and fresh baguette. They were not having a glass of their lovely red Bordeaux with the cheese and bread; these two young ladies were having a soft drink instead. I thought it would have been lovely to see how the cheese and wine paired, right there by the vineyard. Then again it was early afternoon.
The A.O.C. rules define Comté rather strictly; the production rules are some of the strictest ones of France. You might think that they would all taste the same. It is precisely those rules that help give wheels of Comté their uncompromised and rather individual signatures.
Sangiovese is a varietal we often overlook; it could be partly because there were many inferior wines produced from this grape in the past, or because it is often blended with other high-pedigree varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon, diluting its own characteristics. It has been blended with other varietals to yield some delicious wines. However part of the appeal of Sangiovese is its easy-drinking character, its graceful acceptance of other varietals in the mix, and its harmony with many foods, cheeses included.
Some Sangiovese successes have been noted recently in Napa yet the grape does not seem to grow quite as successfully much of anywhere else outside Tuscany, so it may also suffer from a lack of recognition on the worldwide stage. We are offering Sangiovese wines in more classes here at the Artisanal Cheese Center, not only the classes focused on Italian cheeses and wines, but in other classes too. This will allow us to pair our cheeses produced outside Italy with several Sangiovese wines. As the weather warms up, Sangiovese is sounding rather appealing, like a nice bottle for a picnic, accompanied by a little cheese and a crusty baguette.
Fortunately, some of the many cheeses that happen to pair well with Sangiovese make good picnic cheeses: goat, sheep, cow and mixed milk cheeses; from the lighter styles all the way up to and including some blues. These are some cheeses we have enjoyed with this varietal recently:
Abbaye de Belloc, Barely Buzzed, Cantalet, Cremont, Garrotxa, Gorgonzola Piccante, 4 y.o. Gouda, Gruyère, Hittisau, Hoja Santa, Ibores, Manchego, Le Moulis, Pecorino Foglie di Noce, Pecorino Sardo, Roncal, Roquefort, Scharfe Maxx, Terraluna, and Vacherin Fribourgeois.
Considering how easy Sangiovese is on the pocket book you may want to add an extra wedge of cheese to your picnic basket. There is a good chance that it will make a nice match.