After months of obsessing over cheese, researching cheese, living cheese, it’s such a pleasure to discover a cheese that is unlike any I have seen before. It still shocks me, really-how much we humans can do with a little bit of milk, time and ingenuity. I stumbled across today’s cheese, Garrotxa the other day while browsing my local cheese specialty store’s wonderful box of cheese ends for sale. I highly recommend checking out these boxes of bits and ends. It’s a perfect way to try a number of cheeses without making a huge commitment to something gnarly. Most cheese stores have them, just ask.
This wedge of Garrotxa jumped out at me chiefly due to its ugliness. Really, this is one vile looking cheese. It’s almost black on the outside, and this black, bloomy rind had crept all the way around the cut side, enveloping this cheese in a zombie-like black mould rind thing. I guess it’s no great surprise that it was in the left-over bin. Of course, I do love an underdog, especially a cheese underdog, so I ignored all the other flashy cheeses and brought this little ugly duckling home with me. Also, I recalled that the Mythbusters episode entitled Greased Lightning determined that Garrotxa is an ideal cheese for use as a cannonball, due to its size and elasticity. I mean, really, an ugly cheese that doubles as a cannonball. How can I resist?
It turns out that Garrotxa is a Spanish cheese made from unpasteurized goat’s milk. That means pregnant ladies, stay away! It also has a really unique and kind of creepy weird mold rind thing going on, so really, this one is not for folks with a compromised immune system. Interestingly, some sources on the net claim that this is a new cheese, hitting the market in 1981 and making a real name for itself and gaining popularity. So much popularity that there is a big movement to make this an AOC cheese, as imposters-yes-cheese impostors are cropping up claiming the name but not playing the game. Interestingly, a few sources actually refer to Garrotxa as an AOC cheese already (this means protected name, protected region) while other state that it is not.The Catalan Association of Artisan Cheese Producers have made application for a protected designation of origin, but I don’t think they have it yet, some people may just be jumping the cheese gun here.
I digress, as I mentioned some folks believe that this is a new cheese born in the 1980’s, but a more interesting tale is that it is an ancient cheese, only brought back to life (see, I knew it was a zombie) in the 1980’s. It is actually a very old traditional type of cheese in the region, but the recipe was basically forgotten for while. Following the Spanish civil war and the second world war, Spain was left in abject poverty. The government implemented a policy which essentially rendered small-scale farming illegal (weird). This basically forced artisan cheese making underground. Some cheese survived, others didn’t. So when Garrotxa reappeared int he 1980’s and was branded a “new cheese” real turophiles knew it wasn’t.
Perhaps the coolest thing about Garrotxa besides the fact that it is actually a zombie brought back from the dead (and also the most frightening to me personally) is the unusual blue-grey and almost suede-like fungus on the outside known as a pell florida. Garrotxa is also known as ‘formatge pell florida’, which means ‘flowery skin cheese.” In this case, the word flowery is clearly euphemistic. My little heinous wedge of Garrotxa really is an ugly duckling. Before I cut away the black mould that crept over the cut sides it really didn’t resemble anything that one should eat. After cutting it away a creamy yellow cheese emerged in sharp contrast to the black velvet rind. Some sources claim the rind is edible, others say stay away. I’m going with the later today! This cheese actually smells amazing. As I have been writing this morning and the cheese has been waiting for me, it slowly has warmed up and is emanating this amazing mushroomy smell. It’s actually fantastic, I don’t know what’s in the black velvet rind but it smells divine. The smell of goat is faint, but unmistakable. The cheese cuts nicely, it’s semi-hard, there are no eyes.
Mmmm. It’s lemon-goat-mushroom. It’s surprisingly mild, the goat is pretty chilled out. There’s a funny kind of bitter note in this cheese, especially as you approach the rind, it’s not offensive, just not what I expected. I suspect this has something to do with the unique properties of this black mold. The cheese has a great texture, it’s creamier that other Spanish goat cheeses I have sampled and melts easily in the mouth. There’s quite a bit of salt, but it’s not overpowering. It’s actually pretty sumptuous, I can see why it’s so popular, although personally, it lacks that peppery bite that I do so love in a goat cheese, and that bitter aftertaste makes this one not quite my slice of cheese-although I would support you if it was yours.