It takes a bit of effort to pronounce Stillsitzer Steinsalz, it’s all about avoiding the tongue to curl. However, when that’s under control, you have in front of you a cheese you either love, or not. There are few in-betweens.
Valentine’s day really only needs two cheeses. And a glass of Champagne of course. Or a bottle, after all you’re two. In Norway some think celebrating Valentine’s day is stupid, but I think many enjoy it. Sending cards, buying flowers, and the like. It is a fairly new tradition here, imported as it is. Same with halloween, by the way.
So what better way to celebrate and have an enjoyable time than having som good cheese? With something equally good in the glass; sparkling of course on such a day. It is a Thursday, but who cares, almost Friday anyway and for some the week-end have probably started. That’s the directions yhe work week is turning. Or is this a trend only in this affluent, small country up here in this northern corner? Whatever, it’s time to buy some cheese, suppose the booze is already in the fridge.
Or Champagne-Ardenne to be exact. Yellow to orange in colour and with a very wrinkly rind. A delight to look at. And with this very characteristic crater on top, appearing because the cheese has not been turned during maturation. “All” cheese, except this one, is regularly turned while they age. To make then even. well this crater can of course be used for some good purpose, like pouring some champagne into it, and that way infuse the cheese. That’s a party trick. Then you have some champagne in the glass and some in the cheese. That’s charming. Adding the cheese is even and creamy, it is only surpassed by Neufchâtel on such a day..
Another hearty cheese. Neufchâtel, perhaps?
It’s sweetie this minute cheese from Normandie in France. Neufchâtel comes with both a history and good flavours. Not as famous as some others of the cheeses from Normandie, though. Ideal for Valentines Day of course. because it’s an excellent cheese, but also because it oftentimes is heart shaped. Silky texture with a fine taste of dairy. leave it for a little while on your kitchen counter and it becomes runny. Quite sexy if you ask me.
Have you ever tasted Bleu de Termignon? If not you should seriously consider doing that. It will be a kind blue cheese educational journey. It is a real, natural blue cheese made at a few farms rather high up in the mountains of Savoie. Within the boundaries of the Vanoise national park between the valleys of Tarentaise and Maurienne. Beautiful area. But what’s so special about Bleu de Termignon?
Bleu de Termignon – an original?
Although running the risk of repeating myself and become boring I have to remind you about André Simon in Cheeses of the World from 1960 where he says: “Blue Cheshire is not made, it happens.” That’s exactly the point which fascinates me a lot. This is one of the issues that makes cheese so interesting; biology, nature and living life. Bleu de Termignon is a blue cheese where nature still decides the outcome. You surely remember the story about Charlemagne, penned by Notker the Stammererer, aka Notker Balbulus.
Bleu de Termignon hails as it is from the mountainous Savoie region in eastern France. There are just four small farms making it from June through September every year. The process is not like other cheese making processes, but not going further into that part of it. However, they mix fresh curd with curd made to days earlier. Bind it with cloth and puts it into moulds. Removes it more or less regularly from the mould to change cloth before it is set aside to wait for nature getting to work. Or not. The outcome is not at all always predictable. There is no blue culture added, Penicillium Glaucum is present on the grass and flowers and herbs the cattle feed on. No needles to give the moulds air to breathe. I have been told the blue moulds do not need all that much oxygen to survive anyway, so I don’t know if the needles are more a habit than a need. Apart from Bleu de Termignon, Spanish Cabrales is also an exception from the rule.
A cheese to taste?
As said, this is about education. If you enjoy blue cheese at all it is a must to have tasted Bleu de Termignon. If you dare not go any further that the pasteurised industrial varieties you’ll find in any supermarket, do not spend neither time nor money on this cheese. Waste.
Wherever you find yourself in the blue cheese landscape, you should know that this cheese is different from any other blue cheese you have tasted. Bleu de Termignon is probably also showcasing how far we have moved away from the original. It might just be you may have a blue cheese without any bluing. In that case you’re fooled by nature and you have to try one more time. Well, most of us buy a piece from a cheesemonger which gives us the opportunity to check if the cheese is blue or not. Texture is firm and crumbly. The firmness might remind you of an alpine cheese, but that’s about all. Perhaps closer if there are no bluing at all. The rind is also well worth a close look. Does not look very edible, so I advice you not to try.
Tasting notes says a touch of bitterness, especially just beneath the rind. Savoury, grass and herbs. Meaty and some barnyard. Acidity. Did I loose you now? Not very uncommon cheese tasting notes this. Complex flavours that sit long in your mouth. If cheese is something that you care for, this is a cheese you have to taste before you die. No less.
Perhaps something unorthodox, just as the cheese itself? A Chinon blanc from the Loire. Move up the price scale. If you’re in for something sweet, try a red sweet on the Tannat grape from the Madiran region of France.
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.
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.
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.
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)