By Paul Partica, The Cheese Shop Of Centerbrook
In my previous blog post, I discussed some of the popular sheep cheeses from France and Holland. Part Two continues with Italy, Spain and the United States. For some of you, the anticipation of this sequel may surpass the long-awaited upcoming episodes of the Game of Thrones and the Walking Dead, so here we go without further ado.
The texture range is wide in the family of sheep cheeses, varying from fresh to semi-soft to hard-aged, and it also includes some blues. Once again, there is no particular order of quality or choice in the list below; let your palate decide.
People often confuse “pecorino” with the name of a cheese. In Italian terms, pecorino simply means that the cheese is made from sheep’s milk. Here are three pecorino standouts from Italy:
Pecorino Toscano D.O.P.
Let’s first address the D.O.P. title. This is basically the same quality control designation as the French A.O.C. rating noted in last month’s article. D.O.P. stands for “Denominazione di Origine Protetta,” which means “Protected Designation of Origin.” The same rules apply here relating to where the cheese was made and other factors such as process, butterfat content, appearance and similar characteristics.
Pecorino Toscano is widely produced in Tuscany. It is a full-fat pasteurized cheese made in a small round wheel of about six to seven pounds. It typically ages at least four months, developing a fair amount of sharpness during this time. Toscano works as both a table cheese and a grating cheese for pastas, salads and cooking. I also like it as a dessert when served with acacia honey. Compared to other sheep cheeses, Toscano has a price point that is good enough to make my Best Buys list (Ink Magazine, November 2015).
Cacio de Busco with Truffles
Laced with truffles, this young Italian pecorino cheese is similar to Pecorino Toscano in size and shape and one of our best sellers. In addition to being a great table cheese for pastas and salads, Cacio de Busco works equally well as an appetizer or, surprisingly, a dessert.
Truffles grow best in France, Italy, Spain and the Pacific Northwest. You may or may not know that they are one of the world’s most expensive natural foods, often costing between $300 and $400 per pound. Truffles are round in appearance, range in size from a walnut to a baseball and are somewhat irregular in shape. They have been used for flavoring food since early Roman times.
Romano is one of the most well-known and widely-eaten Italian cheeses. Dating back 2,000 years, Romano often competes with Parmigiano Reggiano, which is a cow’s milk cheese. Many recipes will use both cheeses, with the exception of Caesar salad, which traditionally uses Reggiano. Romano is traditionally used as a grating cheese on pastas and salads, and not typically as an eating cheese. Its distinctively sharp full flavor has made it a mainstay in Italian cooking. Italian-made Locatelli is the popular brand.
This is probably Spain’s most well-known and beloved cheese. There are many different brands or producers to choose from, in both raw milk and pasteurized versions. Since Manchego is a cheese aged over sixty days, it can be imported without issue. I usually carry the raw milk version, which has a fuller, more intense flavor. (This is usually the case with raw milk vs. pasteurized cheeses.) Manchego is a full-fat, 45% butterfat offering, with a wheel size of 7 to 8 pounds. Be wary of an over-aged cheese, which you might find too dry for your palate. If you should end up with one, try some of those great Spanish wines to go along with it.
This cheese is made from all three milks: sheep, goat and cow. I have placed it in the sheep milk category because its taste deems it belong here. Iberico is very similar to Manchego, but a bit creamier. I actually prefer it. Both cheeses are almost identical in appearance except Iberico is slightly lighter in color. They both have an identifiable tire-like tread mark around the wheel reminiscent of a small tire. Iberico is also a full-fat cheese, with a butterfat content of 45% and a weight of 7 to 8 pounds.
Sheep cheeses are not currently in abundance in the U.S. as compared to cow and goat cheeses now available locally, but one is noteworthy.
This awesome blue cheese is one of my favorites and the closest to actual French Roquefort that I have ever tried. Like most blues, this domestic variety is soft and spreadable at room temperature. It has a nice acidity in taste and finishes with a delicate sweetness. Ewe’s Blue is made in Old Chatham, New York. It comes in approximately the same wheel diameter as Roquefort, only half as thick in height. For those who prefer vegetarian rennet, this cheese is made with it and therefore classified as vegetarian. If you like Roquefort, you will be pleased with this comparatively-priced sheep milk version. Availability on Ewe’s Blue is limited, so plan accordingly.
Hear Paul discuss this topic and more the first Wednesday of every month on “Talking Cheese,” a new iCRV Radio show, airing live at 9:00 am, re-airing at 2:00 and 6:00 pm. Go to www.icrvradio.com to tune in.