Italian


Don’t let the word latte fool you – this isn’t a coffee-infused cheese. Latte, of course, is Italian for milk, and Robiola Due Latte is made from the milk of two animals, cows and sheep. While you won’t find it at your neighborhood Starbucks, you should seek it out at your local cheese shop because when you’re craving an ooey, gooey, melt-in-your-mouth cheese, this one fits the bill quite nicely.

Robiola Due Latte comes from Italy’s Piedmont region, and some people compare it to Brie, but I think it’s much better. Brie can have a chalky aftertaste sometimes, but Robiola Due Latte is anything but chalky. True, it doesn’t have the tang of a goat’s-milk cheese, but the overwhelming creaminess of its paste more than makes up for it. This is a comfort cheese, the caseophilic equivalent of mashed potatoes. When you’re having a bad day, schmear it on some crackers or crostini and munch away your sorrows. Or if you’re celebrating, pop open a bottle of prosecco (or champagne) and go to town. You can’t help but feel better afterward.

‘Tis a pity that we didn’t discover Brunet until we were toward the end of our journey through the Wine Spectator 100 Great Cheeses list. ‘Tis a pity that neither Colleen nor I could find it in our local cheese shops, so we had to turn to the pricey mail-order option (though we appreciate that it is an option – thanks, Murray’s!). But we won’t have a pity party today because Brunet is such a find, such a cheesey revelation, that we should only celebrate its deliciousness and forget about shipping fees.

I don’t often associate Italy with goat’s-milk cheeses. Cow, definitely, sheep, occasionally, but not goat. Brunet is here to make you forget your prejudices for the Italian cheeses produced from the milk of those two animals, though. Hailing from the Piedmont region and made with pasteurized milk, Brunet has the texture of a French triple-crème but the lightness of a clean-tasting chevre. Left out on the counter for a couple of hours, its paste becomes liquidy and oozing – you could just as easily eat it with a spoon as you could with a knife and a cracker. Its goaty flavor, though subtle, comes through at the beginning and the end of each bite, and if you hold the rind on your tongue you get the tangy sensation that goat-cheese lovers crave.

Brunet would pair nicely with a Chardonnay or any light sparkling wine. If not pregnant, you could bet I’d be toasting its fabulousness with a bubbly beverage, so I may have to reward myself with another shipment come May. It’s just that good.

Trugole

Don’t be surprised if you haven’t heard of Trugole before. I hadn’t, but now I’m glad I found it. This Alpine cheese is made in Italy’s Asiago region – ah! you say, I’ve heard of Asiago – but it’s nothing like the cheese you find on bagels at Bruegger’s. Instead, it has a creaminess typical of cheeses made from cows that roam rich pastures. Way better than those stale bagels.

Trugole is a raw-milk cheese that is aged and washed for at least two months, but it has no funkiness or yeastiness. In fact, the taste is so smooth and mild that you’d think I’d be bored with it a la last week’s experience with Morbier. But there’s something about that creaminess that keeps me coming back for more tastes. I can imagine Trugole melted over a rich, brothy soup like French onion or draped over a piece of nutty toast alongside a mug of tomato soup. Suggested wine pairings are Pinot Grigio and Pinot Bianco, but to me, this cheese tastes so pure and basic, I’d skip the wine and focus on food pairings instead.

Parmigiano-Reggiano

When I first saw Parmigiano-Reggiano on the Wine Spectator list, I admit the first thought that came to mind was, “Duh!” It’s a no-brainer to include the cheese that sits tabletop at every Italian restaurant in the country. But many Americans likely associate it with a green can, and if you think I’m referring to that shredded junk, honey, you’re reading the wrong blog.

The real Parmigiano-Reggiano comes from Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region and is D.O.P. (Protected Designation of Origin), which means that any wheel of Parm sold with that symbol is the real thing. Ask your cheesemonger to show it to you when he or she cuts you a wedge. Made from pasteurized cow’s milk, the cheese is shaped into 80-lb. wheels and aged for a minimum of one year and 20-24 months on average. The longer it’s aged, the grainier and crumblier the cheese becomes and different flavors come through more strongly. Younger wheels of Parm often have notes of vegetables or grass, while older wheels gain fruitier and spicier tones. Personal preference (and cheese shop availability) can determine which kind you buy.

Though Parmigiano-Reggiano is often grated onto pasta dishes or salads, it can also have a place of honor on your cheeseboard. Guests can tear off small hunks for snacking with fresh or dried fruit. Try thin slices with apple wedges – it’s a nice change from the traditional apples and cheddar combo. Wine pairings are all over the map. Wine Spectator recommends a sparkling wine, like Champagne or Prosecco, if you’re nibbling the cheese as an appetizer and Port for after dinner. The Consorzio del Formaggio Parmigiano-Reggiano suggests dry white wines for younger versions, building to full-bodied reds for the super-aged varieties.

Though Taleggio is a staple at many cheese counters and shops, I can’t say I’ve had much experience with it until now. Perhaps a taste here and there, but I’m pretty sure I never bought a wedge of the Italian cow’s-milk cheese until last week. (I did buy some American-made Taleggio a few months ago at France 44, but you’re going to have to wait to hear that review.) What a pity — this raw-milk cheese is so tasty that it should be a regular in any cheese lover’s rotation.

Taleggio, which originates from the Bergamo region of Italy, is a washed-rind cheese, but those who are afraid of stinkies shouldn’t shy away from it. While it has the yeasty smell of a Red Hawk, the taste is much lighter and milder. The paste ranges in color from white to pale yellow and may feature small holes, and the rind is a blushing pink. If you buy a wedge and the color seems off, bring it back to your shop for an exchange – no one deserves rancid cheese!

Light Italian red wines are a recommended match for Taleggio; Wine Spectator suggests a Lambrusco. Other pleasing accompaniments include apples or pears, and the Consorzio Tutela Taleggio (the union of Italian Taleggio producers) says it is particularly suited to gratins. I can’t argue with the union. Who doesn’t love cheese and potatoes?

{Stay tuned for more Vermont cheese reviews, including some exquisite washed rind cheeses in the Taleggio style.}

Continuing with the National Goat Cheese Month theme here at C+C, today we venture to Italy to sample one of its most delicious cheeses, Caprino. Based on the Italian word capra, which means goat, caprini are delectable little goat’s-milk cheeses from the country’s Piedmont region, which borders France and Switzerland. It’s not surprising then that caprini resemble French chevres in shape and texture, but the sumptuous Caprino Tartufo I sampled is in a class all of its own.

Though it’s actually a Caprino Stagionato on the Wine Spectator list, I couldn’t find that cheese (often aged and seasoned) anywhere in the Twin Cities, and the Caprino Tartufo is a worthy substitute. Left to sit on the counter for just an hour, the cheese oozed runny paste when I cut into it. It lacked a strong goat odor and taste; instead, the clean creaminess made it a refreshing start to my dinner. The truffle (tartufo) added an earthy touch but didn’t overwhelm the cheese’s smooth flavor.

In his “Cheese Primer,” Steven Jenkins notes that Italians often eat their caprini with a drizzle of olive oil and cracked black pepper, so I got out my special bottle of Israeli extra-virgin olive oil and poured a dab onto the cheese, topping it with pepper. I tasted each ingredient separately upon taking my first bite – the fruity splash of the olive oil stands out at the beginning, then you get a smooth swallow of the cheese, and finally the spiciness of the pepper bursts through at the end. It would be a stand-out appetizer at a summer dinner party, provided you buy enough caprini to keep your goat-cheese-loving guests sated. Sommelier Mauro Cirilli recommends serving caprini with a light-bodied white wine, such as a Sauvignon Blanc from Italy’s Fruili-Venezia region.

While the official cheese tour may be over, I have one final cheese purchased in New York to share this week, the Italian Fiore Sardo. We purchased a hunk of this crumbly, hard cheese at Stinky Bklyn, and greeted it again at the Fancy Food Show where it was displayed in all its full-size glory.

Fiore Sardo is a pecorino hailing from the island of Sardinia, a D.O.P.-protected, raw sheeps’ milk cheese with a dark rind. It is flaky, sharp and salty, with the fragrance of a fruity olive oil and a little smokiness. It would be wonderful grated on some hot pasta — in place of the ubiquitous pecorino romano from your grocery store, perhaps — or is perfectly suited to snacking. It is yellower in color and fruitier in flavor than the Pecorino Foglie, which hails from cooler northern Italy, and the two are an interesting illustration of the variations one can find even among cheeses of the same type.

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