Cheese 133 Blarney Castle Cheese

Sometimes I just don’t have the energy to look for a really sexy cheese. I start to worry about what the people at the cheese shop think of me if I’m there too much (and I am.) Do they think I’m sort of cheese junky?  Do they think I’m obsessed?  It worries me.  That’s why, from time to time, I like to buy my cheese at the supermarket. It’s just so delightfully anonymous. No one is monitoring my shopping, no one judges my cheese choices. And sometimes, you can find interesting cheese at the market.

I stumbled across todays’ cheese on such a cheese shopping trip. It’s Blarney Castle by Kerrygold-the ubiquitous Irish cheese maker. I thought it charming, with its old-timey wrapper (I’m such a sucker for an old-timey wrapper) and it’s adorable name. I reviewed Kerrygold Dubliner cheese a while back, and you can read my review here. It was a sweet, slightly odd cheese-also in an old-timey wrapper (nice consistent branding. ) Kerrygold uses all “natural” and grass fed milk for its cheeses.  Although it’s a big company, they do try to source locally, and what’s not to like about that?

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But back to Blarney. The real Blarney Castle or Caisleán na Blarnan is a partially ruined medieval  stronghold in Blarney near Cork Ireland. My Irish Nash relatives are also from Cork Ireland, so I truly do feel a connection to this cheese. This castle  dates from before 1200 in some form or another. The famous Blarney Stone is found in this castle, also known as  “the Stone of Eloquence.”  It’s a magical stone! People  hang upside-down over a sheer drop to kiss the stone, which gives the gift of bullshit. As I mentioned, my people come from this area, and I suspect this gift has also been passed down generation to generation. Perhaps even finding its way into this very blog! Full circle.

What does this all of this have to do with cheese? Probably very little. It’s a catchy name and an Irish cheese, and you have to call it something, right? The cheese is made from pasteurized cow’s milk from Irish cows who hypothetically graze in the area, but really, who knows, it’s a bit of a mystery. The wrapper with a charming picture of a milk bucket (old-timey!) claims that it is a “smooth and mild gouda cheese”, which is-of course, a Dutch cheese (not Irish) -so again, mysterious.

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My little block of Blarney Castle is a calm, unassuming cheese. It’s soft and a nice golden yellow colour. There are tiny eyes in the paste. The smell is sweet and mild. There’s nothing to see here folks!  Actually, this is a pretty little cheese, it wouldn’t scare anyone, and that’s important to me. So many of the cheeses I sample are frightening to behold. It looks like cheddar, not real cheddar, but supermarket cheddar, uniform and without blemish.

Here goes:

Sweet, benign, toothsome, yummy. It tastes just like it looks, it’s a simple and unthreatening cheese. I could give this to anyone and they would like it, it’s a perfect starter cheese. It’s actually really yummy, it has a great balance of sweet and salt and the texture is very springy and milky. I don’t know where the “young gouda” thing comes in, it’s not like any gouda I know, it reminds me more of a German farmer’s cheese (which reminds me, I need to review German Farmer’s cheese.) I have just snarfed down my wedge and I’m heading back for more. Who knows the real story here, not me, but if you are looking for a grass fed cow’s cheese at the market and you want to stray from the usual without getting too freaky, give this one a try, and that’s no Blarney!

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Cheese 132 Pecorino Bigio-Il Forteto

I think we have established that cheese-making in an ancient art. We don’t really know how long cheese has been eaten for-it doesn’t leave a great fossil record-but let’s suffice it to say, it’s been a while.

Take Pecorino, for instance, the beloved Italian ewe (sheep’s) milk cheese. It has been around for at least 2000 years in one shape or form or another.  Roman records indicated that it was actually part of a soldier’s rations. It kept well in the heat, and provided the much needed fat, protein and salt on the road-kind of a little sheepy energy snack, Roman-Style.

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I’m extremely fond of a Pecorino, and have reviewed several of them here (for the record, Pecorino isn’t a protected name, it’s the name of a family of cheeses, hard cheeses made from sheep’s milk- in fact, the word derives from pecora meaning sheep.)

And I don’t know if you have ever checked out a sheep  udder, (perhaps a new hobby?) but those things are tiny. These poor little sheep really have to work to produce enough milk to make cheese, especially when compared to a cow. I just feel that sheep cheese is so much more precious than cow cheese. Hence, whenever I see a new iteration of pecorino, I must try it-I am compelled.

Which brings me to today’s cheese, discovered on sale at a local cheese shop, Pecorino Bigio. Now, don’t be alarmed when you see cheese on sale. Often-as with cheeses like brie and camembert-it’s a good thing. It means that the cheese is just right for eating-but I suppose even cheese can get too old and tired (hard to believe) so I was taking a risk picking this one up (50% of.) But I had never seen or tasted it before, and I found it’s aspect compelling-grey and zombie like.

Bigio means “grey and ashy” in Tuscany. Hence, this one of those weird looking grey ash cheeses. Really, this is an old and traditional cheese making process, don’t be alarmed. After five months of  maturation, this Pecorino continues to ripen at least 2-3 weeks after being covered with a layer of burnt oak wood ashes. These ashes were previously used to heat the ovens to bake bread (ok, I found one web reference that said this, I find this a little dubious, although romantic, so I’m keeping it.)  The fact is, cheese has been covered with ash for a long time, it keeps the bugs out and helps preserve the cheese. The ashes prevent the further formation of mould on the rind and accelerated the process of maturation.  The ashes also dessicate the cheese and leave it sweeter and tastier.
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I suspect that this Pecorino Bigio is a relatively new version of a traditional cheese. This is not a traditional name, but more of a trademarked name, but it’s using an old technique, so I’m cool with that. It’s made by the Il Forteto Cooperative in the Tuscan town of Mugello.

According to web sources,  Il Forteto is an agricultural cooperative  founded in only 1977. It was established by a group of 16 young students with the assistance of  their professors. Their goal was to help the more unfortunate, including handicapped children, by raising money through agricultural products and sales. Wow!  They started off by growing and selling agricultural products at their local markets, and today Il Forteto has grown to 96 members as well as a staff of 30 employees. Their  products (including this cheese and several others) are shipped all over the world.

The Il Forteto Foundation was created in 1998 to officially support  their  social commitment to supporting the less fortunate. Apparently, all of the original founding members are still around and  still play an active role in its management today. And as one who has spent time on a commune or cooperative living situation, let me tell you, that’s kind of a miracle all on its own.

I’m already feeling warmly towards this cheese. It’s made from sheep’s milk, and it’s politically correct. Alas, this is a pasteurized sheep’s milk cheese, but I shall attempt to overlook this.

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My wedge of Pecorino Bigio was quite hard and dessicated. The ash has done an excellent job of removing any hint of moisture from this cheese. It really is ashy-it’s not just for looks, the ash comes off on my hands-I wouldn’t eat that part. The cheese has a faint smell-it’s pretty tame-it’s pretty desiccated, did I mention that? Actually, I couldn’t cut this cheese (insert snicker here) it’s by far, the hardest cheese I have encountered, I just kind of chipped away at it and it crumbled slightly. It’s hard to tell if it’s supposed to be that way, or if, in fact, the reason this cheese was on sale is it’s just too old. I think this one needs to be grated.

Here goes: Mmmm. It’s a sweet and chewy cheese, salty, sheepy, inviting. It’s very tame and friendly, it’s a warm round mouth feel that invited you to chew, which is kind of a shame as I can’t see really serving this as anything but grated. It’s quite dry, but once you start to chew it gives up it’s flavour. I can imagine that this one could live quite happily in a Roman soldiers bag for a couple of months or so, it’s really just inert and benign, yet yummy. This one’s a bit of a mystery to me, it’s got a nice taste, but I can’t figure out how one would deliver it to a cheese taster, perhaps next time I will stick to the full price version.

Cheese 131 14 Arpents-Fromagerie Medard

 

 

You know how some people like to shop for cars, or jewellery, or clothes?  I like to shop for cheese.

Every time I’m in a new store, I’m drawn to the cheese section, and my children mock me for this. Last week they accused me of being “addicted to cheese.” And that’s just unfair. I mean, addicted? Addicted means that I think about it all the time, I obsess about it, I can’t live without it. Shit. Maybe I AM addicted.

Last week when the whole “mom’s addicted” issue came up, I was elbow deep in our local Whole Foods cheese section. I do like to look for cheese here as they tend to have a decent selection, and they also have a basket of smaller “amuse bouche” tastes of cheese, which is a great way to get into cheese without making a huge commitment.

It was here that I noticed today’s cheese for the first time, a Canadian cheese, from Quebec and as it is Canada Day (Happy Canada D’eh!) I thought it an excellent choice. It’s an interesting looking square cheese from the Quebec Fromagerie Medard called 14 Arpents (FYI, that link is in French, so best of luck to you.)


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If my high school French serves me correctly, 14 arpents means 14 acres, as in “14 acres of land” and the lady at the cheese counter told me it refers to the road bordering the fromagerie, called Le Chemin 14 Arpents. It’s a whole milk, washed rind  cheese made from the milk of the farm’s own brown Swiss cattle-and this one’s pasteurized (alas.) This is a true farmstead cheese as it is made from the cattle that live on the farm.

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The milk for this cheese is sourced from the attached  Ferme Domaine De La Rivière,  established in  1881 when the Quebec government gave  families with at least 12  children (yikes) extra funds to settle and develop the area. The eponymous Médard (of Fromagerie Medard) was the son of one of these establishing families. The  Fromagerie Medard,  opened in 2006 took his name, so there’s a true thread of farming, history of the land in the cheese and in the cheese name, and I like that.

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This is a handsome cheese, it has a lovely orange washed rind and a creamy yellow interior, spotted with eyes. It seems rather alive- it oozed slightly when I cut it, and as it warms up, it really does reek quite pleasantly. There’s that delightfully foul odour of unwashed feet that captivates me. Alas, so many are scared off by that initial “hello” from a washed rind, that’s just the bark! Don’t be afraid of the bite!  Move in, I implore thee.
Mmmmmm. This is the love child of Taleggio and Oka! It’s a round tasty flavoured cheese, with just a hint of bitter from that salty washed rind. It’s toothsome and chewy, it sticks to my teeth, it plays with my tongue. Although the smell is a little fierce, the taste is mellow, yet complex. I think this one would work on just about any cheese board. It’s salty and creamy and nutty and pleasurable in the mouth. It’s just slightly “gym-socky” but in an ever so friendly way. My only regret? I only bought a small chunk.
Go out and grab some, and Happy Canada Day