Shopping cheese in the eternal city of Rome

SHOPPING CHEESE
Shopping cheese just off Piazza Campo de’ Fiori, Rome

Shopping cheese is perhaps not the first thing that springs to mind when visiting the eternal city. Rome is so much more of course. But being me that is certainly part of the experience. There was just one cheese shop that I had blinked out beforehand, and as it is, it was closed when we finally arrived there. It was situated in Trastevere and we went there on a Sunday, just that this particular Sunday happened to be Labour Day. So they were closed. Disappointing of course, since I had read so much about it. Antica Caciara is the name, and as it it I do not know if it is as good as described. You have to find out for yourself. That said, we had a wonderful, huge lunch at a restaurant called la Canonica. Very busy, very noisy and very typical Italian. At that time we had more or less given up shopping cheese in Rome. As it turned out there was an other opportunity, at the restaurant Rimessa Rascioli we learned they took their cheese from Beppe, a cheese shop situated in the Jewish ghetto. We went there on Friday night, but was denied access as we had brought no face masks. Saturday is was closed of course, and Sunday was again Labour day.

According to Mr Micawber, something will turn up

Some optimism in the midst of all the “misery”. Don’t get me wrong, no misery as such, Rome was wonderful. But Monday morning, time to return home and no cheese. On a stroll across the Campo de’ Fiori, though, after all, we stayed just a stone’s throw away, we realised there was sort of a hole in the wall cheese shop just off the marked. Two knowledgable guys. Probably my age if not older, one responsible for the cheese, the other for the charcuterie. Claudio came to my rescue. A very kind cheesemonger helping out with some local cheese. Well the Caciocavallo is not that local, but the others were. And no Pecorino – well they had lots of Pecorino, but I focused on those new to me, plus the Caciocavallo which is hard to get where I live. As it turned out Claudio is quite a famous cheese man. And it seems like he is now just enjoying life with a small shop selling quality cheese (and salami). So it seems, I might be wrong. I wish I had a cheese shop/deli at that location.

shopping cheese
Two happy guys – Claudio the cheesemonger and Yours truly.

Not that many cheeses though, but some real chunks. Ready for tasting and sharing. Apart from Pecorino Romano I am not familiar with the Roman cheese scene, i.e. cheeses from the area around Rome. So I look forward to digging in. The Italian thing is, they’re regional. If you go to France, by and large you’ll get French Cheese. In Italy you’ll get regional cheese, or local cheese if you like. I don’t think this shop had any of the more northern cheeses like Parmigiano, Grana Padano, or Gorgonzola. Quite famous around the world, but they’re “not from here” seems to be the attitude. Be aware of that when you plan cheese shopping in Italy. In the supermarkets, probably another story.

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Mozzarella – a world of spring and summer delights

mozzarella
Burrata di bufala

It’s this time of the year, it’s Mozzarella time. Sun’s shining, late April and the temperature has started to rise. Mother Earth is waking up from the winter hibernation. Flowers are popping up adding colour to this for the moment otherwise rather grey world. It’s a wonderful time. To celebarte this I will recomend an Insalata caprese, and if you don’t know how to make it, here’s a recipe. But Mozzarella cheese is so much more than just this cheese, varying in shape, size and texture, but common to all are soft and tangy flavours.

Mozzarella – the original

Mozzarella is a fresh cheese, pasta filata style, aka pulled curd, originally made with water buffalo’s milk and from the Campania, the area surrounding Naples. This is perhaps one of the most famous cheeses of the world. Today made all over Italy, of cow’s milk though, but only Mozzarella di Bufala Campana holds a PDO (Protected Designation of Origin – DOP in Italian). So that’s the original. Otherwise the cheese can be made anywhere in Italy from buffalo or any style of cow’s milk. As it is, it is made more or less all over the world, but thy are all copies of course.

In all its simplicity – Insalata caprese

Mozzarella Fior di Latte

In Italy this might be the most famous, but not necessarily so in the rest of the world. This is a traditional Mozzarella made with full fat cow’s milk, and only that. As far as I know there is a variety of Fior di latte from the Southern Apennines that is about to get its PDO. Originated in the Southern Apennines which is part of Campania. Some will say the Fior di latte has a more subtle flavour than traditional Mozzarella and with a softer texture. In many instances favoured by restaurants while the traditional consumer stick to the supermarket variants, whatever they list.

Then there is Burrata

What is burrata I was asked the other day. The simple explanation is that it is a Mozzarella filled with stracciatella. So what is stracciatella? That is shredded mozzarella cheese soaked in cream, making a rather liquid mass. So when you cut the burrata the liquid will float over your plate. Very sensual. Serve it the way it is shown in the picture atop. Burrata may, as with traditional mozzarella be made with cow’s milk or buffalo’s milk, but the best (and most expensive) is Burrata di Bufala Campana DOP. Originally from Puglia as a matter of fact and invented during the 1920s, so only a hundred years old that tradition.

Bocconcini – mouthfuls

That’s literally what it means. They are small Mozzarella balls perfect for salads with perhaps San Marzano tomatoes, they’re native to Naples, and real extra Virgin olive oil. Looks much better in a salad than the traditional sliced mozzarella cheese.

Finally the knots – Nodini

The pasta filata means as mentioned pulled or stretched curd. In that way they can be formed any way you like, even though the most common is the round shape. The variant called Nodini is formed as a small knot. There is a variant of this called braided mozzarella. Very decorative, but otherwise traditional mozzarella. Treccia di Mozzarella would be the thing to look for when in Italy, or Mozzarella intrecciata. Now you should be covered.

What about the dried mozzarella?

Mainly for cooking purposes, especially on pizza, though quite a few pizza restaurants prefer the fresh one in brine, at least if they care about their pizzas. All industrial pizzas with mozzarella cheese is made with this dried variant. They may come in cylinders and be sliced onto the pizza or shredded. You’ll find bags of shredded mozzarella in your local grocery a well. Sometimes it comes in handy.

Raw or pasteurised?

Most of the variants are made with pasteurised milk, but it is far from impossible to get hold of raw milk mozzarella or burrata. For the burrata the stracciatella will be pasteurised irrespective of how the milk for the burrata is treated. You just have to look for latte crudo on the label.

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Some Easter cheese indulgence

easter cheese
Brie de Meaux

It’s definitely cheese for Easter. Some would say it’s all about chocolate, but for me it’s all about cheese, and a few other things like skiing and a 10 day-long-vacation. One of the benefits of living in Norway. Side effects. Most of all Easter is good food and good wines, and cheese is of course part of that. And, after all – a bit of chocolate.

An Easter cheese board suggestion

I am hitting off up into the Norwegian mountains for a few days early on, and these are the cheeses I will bring along. Not that many really, but more than enough to make a hedonistic cheese board. Bringing a few bottles of wine as well of course. You’ll get a hint of which types of wine if you read on.

Brie de Melun

Brie de Melun. I prefer this to the perhaps more famous and definitely bigger in volume and distribution, Brie de Meaux. That said, nothing wrong about Brie de Meaux, but Brie de Melun is made slightly different which is for the better in my opinion. And this difference is basically the time for acidification. 18 hours for Brie de Melun. Nothing near that for Brie de Meaux. This gives more volume to the flavours. From four to twelve weeks maturation. I prefer the variants belonging to the first half rather than the second, but then I live in Norway and the Norwegians generally prefer their bries well matured. That’s my fate then. It’s not optimal, for me anyway, but I can live with it. My palate seems to have a French influence there. For the record, these two bries are the only ones with a PDO, or AOP if you like since we are in France. Fun fact: if you know the fable The Fox and the Crow by Jean de la Fontaine based on Aesop’s fables, well he lived in Melun for a while, so the cheese the crow has in its mouth is a piece of Brie the Melun. It’s got to be true.

Chabichou du Poitou

easter cheese
Chabichou du Poitou

The french have a saying that between Easter and All Saints’ Day there should be chèvre on the table. That’s a good habit. So on my Easter cheese board there will be a chèvre or two. They’re usually small so you can choose to have more than one variety. I had Chabichou de Poitou the other day and it was very pleasing so I will bring that. That’s from the Nouvelle Aquitaine region, that’ s how it has become, even the French are rationalising their regions into a few huge ones. Well Poitou is an area to look for if you’re going to visit where this cheese hails from. Does not influence the cheese though, the new regions I mean. Fermier made is best. A rich and “sweet” taste, goaty but with a fine acidity with balanced salt towards the end. Can it be any better? If you want a chèvre with ash as well, after all it’s easter, try a Valançay. That’s from further to the north east; Indre in the Loire.

Munster

I love Munster. It’s from Alsace in eastern France, this beautiful region that has been a shuttlecock between France and Germany for ages. Hopefully it has come to rest in France. Up in the Vosges (pronounced vosh) mountains and on the plains to the west of them they make the washed rind cheese Munster. Mine will definitely be from the farmstead maker and affineur Louis. You can try it with boiled potatoes, that’s the local custom, at least it was. In these modern, affluent times I do not know if they still bother to have potatoes with it. But it’s hearty food anyway, very much recommended. Wash it down with a local Riesling. Well, Alsace Riesling is not just another white wine, if you’re not familiar with it, then you have something to look forward to.

Comté

Finally, an alpine cheese. This year my firm Easter cheese will be Comté, 18 months from Marcel Petite. Somewhat further south from Alsace, Jura. While Alsace is bordering Germany, Jura is bordering Switzerland. The 18 moths variety has sufficient ageing while it is still young enough to retain its fruitiness. I think it is a marvellous cheese. Pair it with good bread, pain de campagne, a slice or two of Italian salami, and a white Jura wine. If you’re really doing it like the locals you pair it with Vin Jaune. If Fino sherry is not your thing, well then try a wonderful Jura chardonnay. The Vin Jaune is not a Fino, but the style is in that direction with flor and some oxidation.

Wine pairing

I’ve already given you some suggestions, but not for the Brie de Melun. Why not try a vintage Champagne, after all it is the neighbouring district. And if you just have to have som red wine with any of these cheeses let it be Pinot Noir or Gamay based reds. They usually have the fruit, and not all that much tannins unless you’re climbing the cru ladder which is not necessary, really. And just to have mentioned it, traditionally they had Gewürztraminer with Munster. I prefer Riesling, but you want to have a go, be picky. Some winemakers make better Gewürztraminer than others.

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Spring is here and so are the most wonderful spring cheeses

spring cheeses
A selection of fine spring cheeses

Spring is special, mother earth is coming to life after a long and dark winter. For us living up north this is a special time of year. Nature provides for the seasons and we humans have adapted. If it is planned or just serendipity I don’t know, but with spring comes the spring cheeses. For me the spring cheeses are the many varieties of chèvre. I do know that some of them are made all year round, a fact I willingly ignore. I believe in seasons. Spring comes with spring onions, asparagus and of course the spring cheeses par excellence; chèvre. With a glass of Sauvignon blanc, French if I may be so arrogant. With chèvre from the Loire I think the French variant pairs the best. There is of course chèvre from other areas, in France and the rest of the world, not to mention, but when it comes to the spring cheeses I prefer the Loire cheeses. Could be there is a connection to the Sauvignon blanc which I find especially tempting in the spring. And as they say; what grows together goes together.

Read more about the various chèvres of France.

Spring cheeses Crottin de Chavignol with Sancerre
Crottin de Chavignol with a glass of Sancerre

Spring cheeses – vibrant and full of life

What makes these spring cheeses so vibrant is their lactic appearance. Although characterised as such, this is not fully true. The milk is of course acidified, but most add a touch of rennet at the end to speed up the coagulation. That does not remove neither their freshness nor their acidity. I prefer them rather young, and they are so delicate with a milky palate, fine saltiness and as already mentioned the very attractive acidity. I leave the more mature chèvre till later in the year. And to this, as said, a fine Sancerre or Pouilly Fumé. On the terrace, in the sunshine. Happy springtime folks.

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