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Posts Filed Under The ‘Sheep Milk 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 29th, 2013

Ewe’s Milk Cheeses: Why We Love Them

sheep Ewe’s Milk Cheeses:  Why We Love Them

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

Wednesday, October 16th, 2013

That Cheese Was Smoking

10275 Large e1381949180632 That Cheese Was Smoking

So how do you feel about smoked cheeses?

It may sound gimmicky, an idea of how to make a cheese distinctive, or a way to put aroma and flavor back into a cheese that may have been crafted from pasteurized milk. “Smoked cheese” may sound like a new concept yet the practice has been around for many centuries, possibly since the Bronze Age.

One cheese type that has received the smoking step longer than just about any other is the Fiore Sardo, a pressed sheep milk cheese from Sardinia. The name does not indicate “smoked” – instead it translates to “Flower of Sardegna.” A native breed of the island provides the milk for the cheese and traditionally the young cheeses were cured in huts containing wood-burning fireplaces, hence the “smoking.”

Sardinia is an island of weather contrasts: near the coast it is more tropical, while in the central upper elevations it can be much colder. The one-room huts’ WBFP’s would keep the shepherds warm at night and these same rooms would be the ones used for curing the cheeses. The smoking helped dry the cheeses and imparted a subtle smoky flavor deep into their cores. The smoking also helped to keep away pests.

A similar practice was taken up in northern Spain’s Navarre region, where Idiazábal went through the same curing process, and for the same reasons. Which region adopted this first?

My hunch is that this practice occurred in Sardegna before Navarre, and possibly somewhere in the Middle East long before it started in Sardegna. Records on the earliest cheese smoking are scant.

Gimmicky?

Form follows function. The smoking is subtle in each of these internationally protected cheeses; it is not the dominant flavor note. That smoked flavor would likely be more persistent if these cheeses were crafted from compromised milk. Fortunately neither of these cheeses are.

- Max McCalman

Tuesday, October 1st, 2013

Last, But Not Least

10589 Last, But Not Least

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

Friday, September 20th, 2013

Skip Breakfast?

breakfast with beans e1379701588371 Skip Breakfast?

The New York Times printed an article recently debating the value of skipping breakfast with regard to weight loss. Sadly, it seemed like there was no specific conclusion on this point. I was reminded of an early afternoon a few years ago: I was sitting on the 1 train and could not help but hear a conversation between two young women sitting across from me.

One said to the other “I just had lunch less than an hour ago and I am already starving!”

I wondered what it was she had for lunch. I assumed it must have been a low-fat lunch, likely accompanied by a diet soda. I had not eaten since breakfast (which I rarely skip) and I was still sated. My breakfast that morning consisted of fruit, a handful of nuts, a 30-weight espresso to which a little honey had been added, and a small wedge of firm sheep cheese.

There is nothing quite like a little cheese to keep you going for hours.

If your day is rather sedentary I suppose skipping breakfast may be an option, though I do not see how one’s work performance can be adequately sustained without some sort of nutrient.

So, if nothing else, at least have a little cheese. Or if you are inclined to skip breakfast for whatever reason, make sure you have a chunk of cheese in your pocket.

- 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

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