Caciocavallo – South Italian Horse Cheese?

Caciocavallo belongs to a group of cheeses not readily available outside Italy. To formally put it into place; this is a pasta filata cheese, just like the very available mozzarella and provolone. But that’s about all similarities there are. Like the other cheeses within this family, it hails from south Italy, particularly along the Apennine mountain range. It has to be said that most of these cheeses are pasteurised, but a few honorable exceptions can be found. Naturally, I will write about these, each special in their own right.

A bit about the name caciocavallo

As it is, it actually means horse cheese. At least it is one of the interpretations, not insinuating the cheese has anything to do with horses. Normally made from cow’s milk, but varieties made from both ewe, goat and in rare cases buffalo milk, do occur. All these special varieties are pasteurised, though. Since we have touched on the etymology, it seems like the name derives from the fact that two cheeses were tied to a rope and hung over a pole for maturing. Just like saddling up a horse. Of course it could be they hung cheeses over the horseback as well when they were out riding – for picnic or something.

CACIOCAVALLO PODOLICO

A very special cheese this since it is only made from milk from the Podolica cow. This is a south Italy indigenous cattle race, not to be found anywhere else. A very hardy cattle living outside all year round grazing with no additional feed. bring it inside during the harsh winter months is of no use, it is too warm, so they’ll escape outside. Te cheese is made from raw milk from this race in the areas of Calabria, Basilicata, Campania and Puglia.

The Caciocavallo Podolico are kept in limestone caves for maturation. After three months you have a fine cheese with a golde rind tasting nice, but are mostly for the impatient consumers, or if you wish to use it for cooking. The cheese is actually frequently used for cooking in that area. If you care to wait, you will be in for quite an other experience. After two to three years we’re talking. Colour is ochre. Texture is firm and you break loose small pieces of the cheese with the handy parmesan knife pictured above. Flavour is savoury, herbs and barn. Just wonderful the flavour. This is a cheese rarely sold outside of the area where it is made. So if you want to dig into this one, you probably have to go there. Probably well worth the tour. By the way, the cheese has status as a Slow Food Presidium in Basilicata.

CACIOCAVALLO PALERMITANO

As the name indicates we have moved further south, to Sicily. A lot of fine cheese here, Caciocavallo included. The cheese comes from the many small hillside farms in the south to southwestern part of the island. Made of raw cow’s milk this as well, but otherwise very different from the mainland varieties when it comes to shape and size. The Sicilian variety is rectangular like a huge bar weighing from eight to fifteen kilos. Shorter maturing time as quite a few are eaten fresh, while others get anything from two to twelve months in the maturing room.

For both there cheeses there are a couple of things that unite them, apart from the first part of their names.

Traditional Cheese making

They are both made using traditional cheese making equipment, meaning wood. being it vats or ladles. In Sicily they use wooden moulds, tavuleri, in the local language to give it the rectangular shape. Being made the way they are gives the cheeses some special features like the Caciocavallo Podolico is known for containing high amounts of Omega 3. That’s about the cattle breed and the pastures they feed on and of course the cheese making keeping all the good stuff unspoiled. As far as Caciocavallo Palermitano is concerned that also means no starter culture is added. Mother Nature and wooden vats take care of that. Perhaps slightly technical this, but this is how it was done during the old days, and we have survived. Really strange that is, don’t you think?

A note of caution. When in Sicily you need to ask your way to the real cheese. It is a popular cheese and some have taken the liberty to create a few short cuts. That means using ultra modern cheese making methods, aka all steel and high producing milking cattle hardly seeing any sunlight at all. You won’t get the same tasting experience.

To drink

These are both cheeses that require red wines with body. Generally it can be said that reds made from Nero d’Avola or Aglianico will pair very well.

Valuable sourceNyttig kunnskapskilde: The Oxford Companion to Cheese. (Oxford University Press – 2016)

Mont d’Or – that’s what you need right now?

Mont d'Or
Vacherin du Haut-Doubs which is the proper name for the French version of Mont d’Or

Christmas is over and a new year has just about arisen, so perhaps it’s time for some warm Mont d’Or for some real new year “hygge” in front of the fire place? We have just laid behind us a period where the days became shorter and the darkness sneaked in, but in spite of this a period with a lot of light and expectations. And for some the ultimate stress. Does January represent sort of an anticlimax? Dark, cold and Easter holidays are far ahead. Well, then the “hygge” is all the more important.

From the Jura this cheese, either side of the border between France and Switzerland. I’ve said it before and I do repeat, Mont d’or is just sort of the common noun for this cheese which in France has the proper name of Vacherin du Haut-Doubs and in Switzerland Vacherin Mont d’Or. So a small advantage for the Swiss there. Does not seem like the French version has suffered all that much, though. I prefer the French by the way, and for a particular reason.

I choose French

Not a word against the Swiss, Switzerland or Swiss cheese. They know their cheese even though at first sight they may appear somewhat unvaried with all their alpine cheeses. Which are all excellent, by the way. But behind that facade there are many other interesting cheeses as well. Like the Vacherin Mont d’Or event hough I prefer the French version. For one reason or the other, the Swiss has decided to give the milk a moderate heat treatment, aka thermization. It is still an unpasteurised cheese, but it is not a cheese from raw milk. That’s why I am so careful to pin point that osteperler.no is all about raw milk cheese. That’s what I am devoted to. As natural as possible. And that is why I choose French Mont d’Or.

Why Mont d’Or only during winter?

Well, winter, that’s a relative concept. They can make it from August 15th through till March 15th. Not so much information available about how long they have made Mont d’Or, even though some say they can trace the cheese back to the 12th century or thereabout. Could of course be the tradition with making Mont d’Or goes all that far back, but it’s not for me to speculate. Another highly probable reason is that the summer milk, on the French side of the border was used for making Comté. The farmers formed small cooperatives, also known as fruitières. Making Comté requires considerable amounts of milk, so it sounded like a sensible idea to form cooperatives. They made cheese with long lives helping them through the winters. Getting the milk to these fruitières during wintertime was, however, a risky business. Add that the winter milk is less in volume but richer in milk fat, it seems like a smart decision to make small soft cheeses at the farm. A firm cheese requires less milk fat, as the fat holds on to the liquid and is therefore more suited for soft cheeses. Most alpine cheese and hard cheeses such as Parmigiano Reggiano are made from fat reduced milk. The fat being used for butter and such commodities. I suppose the situation was the same on the Swiss side of the border. However, today both Comté and Gruyère are made all year round, just have to mention that.

To drink

Is it sacrilegious to suggest a glass of fine white? Jura has some wonderful Chardonnays to offer that pairs very well. On the other hand, in Burgundy they drink red Rully or Savigny-les-Beaune. Your choice.

Happy New Year

I wish all my readers and followers a very happy and prosperous new year. I sincerely hope it will be wonderful and exciting for you.

For my part it seems like big things will happen. Travels, new assignments, cheeses to explore, cheese making, certification and a few other plans not to be revealed before they have materialized.

Hope you will continue to pop by OSTEPERLER, 2018 has seen a record audience. A huge Thanks to all of you.