Robiola la Rossa (Week 12)

Robiola la Rossa
Waiting to be unwrapped: la Rossa

Cheese: Robiola la Rossa

Producer: Cora Formaggio

Where: Monesiglio, Italy

This week I was in the Netherlands, a short stopover on my way to Switzerland. The small town where my mother lives has a large supermarket with a surprising array of cheeses, but there is also a cheese store that offers some really remarkable surprises. One find in particular was worth writing about: a small, soft goat cheese, wrapped in leaves from a cherry tree. This Robiola la Rossa is made in the Piedmont region of Italy, and it is spectacular. The cherry leaves bestow a rich caramel color to the rind, and a strong fruity flavor. It is perhaps like the Italian version of the Banon cheese. When cherry-flavored cheese sounds like something you would look for at the county fair, think again. The fresh tanginess of the cheese and the subtle, deep cherry flavor are in perfect balance here, and the result is absolutely delicious. The cheese is 300 grams, about 10 ounces, and my mother and I finished it off in one seating. Cora Formaggio has a wonderful website that provides great detail about their farm, the cheese making traditions of the region – and any farmer that has his portrait picture taken with his animals is a good man in my book. The Robiola la Rossa gave me a new idea for a trip: I would love to meet Signore Cora and his goats in Monesiglio.

Robiola la Rossa 2
Heavenly Formaggio

In the supermarket, I discovered two other interesting items: cheese in a pot and ‘boerenkaas’ (farmer’s cheese, that is, cheese from unpasteurized milk) with a QR code on the wrapper that links to a delightful little video about the farm that produces the cheese. It is in Dutch, but much of it is easy to follow: it basically shows how milk becomes cheese, and it has great footage of friendly red and black cows. A very 21st century way of connecting people with the ways in which their food is produced.

Matthijssen Boerenkaas
Traceable to the Matthijssen Farm via the QR code

And then there was the Stilton in the jar: a small red-and-white pot, quite pretty, with blue Stilton in it. I have never seen anything like it. Inside the pot was the real A.O.P. deal – creamy, not too sharp, and just enough aroma to remind you that it is a blue cheese. I will say, once the fun has worn off a little, you recognize that it was probably never a very good idea to stuff a small jar with cheese: it was hard getting the stuff out, it took a bit of scraping. Some other time, I will re-engage with the Stilton preferably in the UK, and I will talk more about it then. And I am not buying any more jars.

Stilton 2
There’s Stilton in the jar
Cheese  jar

Landaff (Week 7)

cheesemongers sherman oaks
Beautiful labels in the cheesecounter

Cheese: Landaff

Producer: Landaff Creamery

Where: Landaff, New Hampshire

Being back in Southern California this week meant we would look for a Southland cheesemonger who would bring us something new and exciting. We found one surprisingly close to my place of work and after braving the congestion of the Los Angeles freeways for a bit we walked through the door of the Cheesemongers of Sherman Oaks and met Chaz, who cuts a dapper figure at the cheese and cured meats counter with a fabulous moustache and a crisp striped apron. The shop is airy, well-lit and clean-looking. The cheeses and the meats and the cutting boards made of olivewood or slate and the meticulously written signs in the cases make the place a delight to behold, and it does make you want to try if not buy, well, pretty much everything they have on offer. We settled for a piece of Bolivian chocolate that seemed a steal at something like $7, some incredibly flavorful cured meats and a piece of Landaff cheese.

Chaz Christianson, the meat man

Landaff is a town of a little over 400 souls in New Hampshire and if you google it, you can see that the Landaff Creamery is the most important business in town. The New Hampshire cheesemakers, knowing that their town’s name comes from the eponymous town in Wales, found their inspiration across the Atlantic and used a recipe from there. Our cheese had a beautiful clean natural rind and a buttery yellow color with a little white mottle. The cheese itself reminded me vaguely of cheddar, but it was more flavorful and complex. Despite the fact that it is a raw milk cheese the flavor doesn’t linger much in your mouth – it is a clean dismount, if you will. Charlie went to school one day with a turkey & cheese sandwich with a lot of Landaff and he was a very happy camper. I ate most of it in thick slices as an evening snack. It is a cheese that plays well with others, and it can go with pretty much anything, although I would not combine it with heavy red wines. In fact, I will have a beer with my next chunk of Landaff.

New Hampshire Gold: Landaff Cheese

Raclette (Week 6)

Raclette Cheese

Left to right: Valais AOP, Baselbieter, Sheep Raclette cheese

Cheese: Valais Raclette AOP

Producer: –

Where: Valais Canton, Switzerland

I returned from a business trip to Basel, Switzerland with a suitcase full of Raclette cheese. OK, that’s a grave exaggeration, but I had enough for a meal for three. Raclette is originally a cheese from the Valais Canton in Switzerland, but it is also used to describe a meal of melted cheese. So while there is the cheese with the official designation and protection (AOP) from Valais, there are a lot of different cheeses sold as Raclette cheese. These are semi-hard cheeses, often sold in slices, to be melted in the little pans of a raclette-maker, and then poured onto potatoes, bread or veggies (or anything else you think of, as long as it will taste good with a coating of molten cheese.  The alleged history of the cheese is spectacular: in Roman times, it had already been around for centuries, and some even used it in lieu of money. And then, in the Middle Ages, Léon the Valaisian farmer came by, had the brilliant idea to melt the cheese and the rest… well, is even more history.

I brought some local (‘Baselbieter’) cheese, some made of sheep’s milk, and some Valais AOP Raclette, the Real Deal. In a traditional setting, an entire wheel of Raclette may be cut in half, and put close to an open fire with the cut side. Imagine a sturdy Swiss herdsman walking around the table scraping off portions of melted cheese off the big wheel, onto his fellow men’s plates.

We did have to imagine the open fire and the Swiss herder, because we poured the melted cheese from our little pans in the comfort of our home in southern California. One promotional site describes the cheese as “a source of pleasure and conviviality” – and really, we had a very convivial evening.

Ready for Raclette
Ready for Raclette

Raclette cheese is perfect for melting, it slips easily out of the little pans, often without the help of the little scrapers. We had a variety of potatoes and three colors of cauliflower, and we got quite creative with the meats. The Swiss eat prodigious amounts of thinly sliced cured meat, much of it from the Cantons of Graubünden and Valais. I did not bring any, so with the help of Chaz Christianson, whom we met at the cured meats counter of the Cheesemongers of Sherman Oaks we added an eclectic mix of international delicacies – one juicier than the next. More about our visit there in the next post.  The Raclette from Valais – Wallis, as the German-speaking Swiss call it – was the clear winner. Not only did it melt to a perfectly smooth, fragrant goop, its robust, somewhat tangy taste only got better with the melting.

Cured Meats at Cheesemongers of Sherman Oaks
Chaz’ Counter of delicious meats