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Posts Filed Under The ‘Spanish cheese’ Category

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 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