Cheese 137 Mopsy’s Best-a Raw Milk Sheep’s Cheese

One of the great things about being obsessed with cheese, is that people tend to send me cheese tidbits. Alas, not edible cheese tidbits, but links, stories and photos of cheese. Last week a friend sent me a story about extinct words of the English language, including tyromancy. Tyromancy is the art of  divining the future through cheese!  How in the world did this work? Was it like reading tea leaves, only with cheese curd? Were all cheese types involved, or was there a special, powerful cheese used for this purpose? Most importantly, why did tyromancy die out?  Today, here, on “My Blog of Cheese”  I declare the return of tyromancy: I gaze deeply into a beautiful sheep’s milk cheese, and this is what I see…

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Sheep’s milk (sometimes known as ewe’s milk) cheese, is a very special cheese to me. It has a wonderful barny taste, but more than that, ancient cheese munching shepherds were not herding cows, they were herding sheep. Thus it just feels right to me to eat sheep’s cheese, I feel somehow that I’m getting closer to what cheese really is supposed to be. Plus, sheep have tiny little udders, so they really have to work a lot to make milk, and I also appreciate that. It’s good for so many reasons.

On my recent road trip to Washington state, the cheese monger I spoke to recommended that I try today’s cheese, “Mopsy’s Best.” “Oh you must, try it,” she said, “It’s a local, raw milk,  sheep’s cheese.” And really, local, raw or sheep alone would have been enough for me, but the three together is like a cheese yahtzee.

Mopsy’s Best comes to us from the Black Sheep Creamery, and I urge you to visit their website, as it is fantastic and full of great sheep pictures, and who doesn’t like that? The folk at Black Sheep craft their sheep milk cheeses on their farmstead from the milk of their own flock of Rideau-Arcott and East Friesian sheep who graze near Chehalis, Washington- as well as additional milk from the Tin Willows Farm in Eastern Oregon. In case you forgot, my name is also Willow, see: tyromancy at work! Let’s call this a “Cascadian” terroir” as they are mixing milk from 2 states, but it’s all coastal, so it’s all good.

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This cheese appears to be a family run affair. They got their first three sheep in 2000 when their second child had a sensitivity to cow milk, but was able to tolerate sheep milk, (can I just comment here on this being really exemplary parenting, most people would just score some soy milk from the store, but these people went out and bought sheep.) One of their first ewes was  ‘Mopsy” (who now does her best.) One thing lead to another, and  they have been making and selling cheese since about 2005.

Mopsy’s Best is a semi-firm raw cheese aged at least three months. Sheep’s milk has more butterfat and protein than goat and cow milk, and this helps to give it that complex flavour I’m so crazy about. The fact that the milk for Mopsy’s Best has not been pasteurized means that the flavour is more complex yet, as the milk is able to fully develop without any pasteurization getting in the way.  My little wedge of Mopsy’s Best is a firm medium yellow cheese. It has a natural brown rind with a cheese cloth pattern in evidence. The colour is darker closer to the rind, and there are some small eyes in the cheese paste. The smell is rich and barnyardy (is that a word?) It smells sweet and kind of funky, but mild over all. I can’t wait.

Here goes…

How interesting! It changes flavour as you chew it. Initially it’s a round salty sheep taste, but then a hint of caramel emerges. Crazy! The paste has a really interesting texture, it kind of falls apart in your mouth, like it gives up the game the second it touches your tongue, and then it just kind of dissolves into this cream…wait, now it tastes earthy, and closer to the rind it gets more intense with the hit of mushroom funky fungus taste that I dig.

It’s sweet, salty, funky, sheepy and crazy good. My skills of tyromancy tell me that there’s a great future for this little cheese, bravo, Black Sheep Creamery.IMG_2570

 

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 105-Allegretto


Another week, another cheese. I am about to hop on a plane to New York, and I hope to report back on the cheese of that fair city next week. While my family looks to museums and American landmarks to visit- for me, it’s all about Murray’s Cave Cheese Shop.  Mecca.  Ahh.  Yes, soon Murray’s Cheese Cave, you and I will be one, in a sort of Turuphile folie a deux! In the meantime, let me leave you with yet another cheese from Quebec to tide you over whilst I visit the wonders of fromage abroad.

Today’s cheese, Allegretto, has been alluding me for sometime.  Each time I go to the cheese shop to look for it they are “just out of it and getting some in soon.”  I find this extremely vexatious, thus imagine my joy to find a half round ready for the snacking. Allegretto is a sheep’s milk cheese from Quebec made of thermalized milk.  This is pretty significant on two levels.  First, sheep have tiny little udders.  It’s udderly impossible to get much milk out of those wee things, so we really must appreciate sheep’s milk cheese for the effort put into simply supplying the milk.  Secondly, as far as I can see, this is the only thermalized sheep’s milk cheese out there, everything else is either pasteurized (boring) or raw (dangerous!) so this one kind of allows one to appreciate the best of both worlds.

Before I get to the cheese, I want to discuss the word terroir-which I realize I have not investigated yet in this blog, despite its’ importance to the world of cheese.  Terroir is a French word which comes from the word terre meaning land. Terroir is often used in relation to wine and cheese to explain the special characteristics that the climate and geography have on the creation of a certain product-this explains the basis of the AOC (in France) and DOP or PDO designations in the rest of Europe, which basically state that a product can only be made in a certain area using certain techniques to be able to call itself by the designated name of that product.  This is because the terroir is only specific to a certain area.  Only a unique terroir can create a specific taste profile.  Of course, others think this is just an excuse to basically copyright a popular product and limit its name to only a handful of folks.  You choose.   The reason I bring up terroir today is that there’s an awful lot of chat on the net about the importance of terroir to Allegretto.

Allegretto is only made from the milk of one sheep herd which is grazed in one specific area-the pastures of the Abitibi region of Quebec. The area’s Nordic climate (aka Canada) results in pastures with a higher sugar content, which is passed along to the sheep creating sweeter milk.  This explains why Allegretto is so sweet compared to other sheep’s milk cheeses not from the same terroir.  It also explains why so many cheeses which are fundamentally the same thing, are called different names.  Pecorino, Manchego and Allegretto are virtually the same cheese- yes, but the terroir sets them apart. Mystery solved.

Allegretto is a relatively new cheese.  Its producer, La Vache à Maillotte  (translating into Jersey Cow) was founded in 1996.  It specializes in a variety of cheeses including cow and sheep cheese.  La Vache à Maillotte  is located in La Sarre in the Abitibi region of Quebec.  According to their website La Vache à Maillotte is “Canada approved.” I really have no idea what that means, but it certainly sounds good.  La Vache à Maillotte has partnered up with sheep farmer Tommy Lavoie, who ensures the quality of feed and care given his herd are consistent with the nordic terroir so important to the taste of Allegretto’s essential flavour. You see, I told you it’s all about the terroir with this cheese.

Allegretto is a pressed cheese, aged a minimum 120 days. While ripening, the exterior of the cheese is washed every two days with brine to develop its natural rind. As already mentioned, Allegretto is neither a raw milk nor pasteurized cheese, it is thermalized. Thermalization heats the milk to a lower temperature, which destroys most of the potentially bad bacteria but keeps some of the flavour from the beneficial microbes. Hopefully any remaining harmful bacteria die off during the aging process. A cheese made from raw or thermalized milk cannot be sold younger than 60 days in Canada. Thus my Allegretto is at least 2 months old, but  I am guessing it’s a little older than that.

Allegretto was the Grand champion in the  Caseus d’Argent cheese competition in 2004 and the overall class 8 winner (Best lamb milk cheese) in the 6th edition of the Quebec specialty cheese contest.  Bravo, Allegretto!

My little wedge of Allegretto sits patiently on my desk.  It’s a handsome cheese with a firm paste of a buttery yellow which grows darker as it approaches the rind.  There is a natural rind with a cheesecloth pattern which is light white in colour. This cheese smells marvelous.  It’s intense, but not foul, I just want to sink my teeth into it’s ewey gooey goodness- and I shall.

Here goes… Well, it’s good, but it’s missing that sweet I was expecting.  This is really a salty cheese more than anything else.  Perhaps those sheep were grazing on some salt licks along with their Nordic Terroir. Don’t get me wrong-it’s toothsome and yummy, but SALTY. Allegretto has a nutty taste with a hint of lamb.  It reminds me a little of the Lamb Chopper Gouda I sampled a while back. The texture is lovely, its chewy and melty, but alas, there is no tyrosine crunch to report.  It actually tastes a little like grapes now that I eat it more, that’s interesting, it is a fruity little cheese.  Mmmm.  Actually, the more I eat it, the more I like it, it’s a beautiful cheese, I would just dial back a little on the salt-but that’s just me.

OK Allegretto, get on my cheese board, you salty little monster, you are my slice of cheese.

Day 90-Lamb Chopper

I have many regrets with this blog.  One of them has been the fact that I have reviewed only a small handful of sheep cheeses, and virtually only pecorino at that.  Sheep’s milk cheese is actually very popular across the world, but we don’t seem to have much of an appetite for it here in Canada.  Part of the issue with making a sheep’s milk cheese is that there’s just not enough good sheep’s milk in Canada to resource a cheese.  Sheep are little, their little udders are little, we just aren’t focussed on getting that milk out and into cheese.  It’s a shame.

 
Thus, imagine my joy when I learned about today’s cheese, a sheep’s milk cheese from the USA.  I mean, that’s practically Canada, right?  Oh wait, wrong again.  Today’s cheese, Lamb Chopper is actually a Dutch cheese, made for and sold by Americans.  Will I ever get this straight? Lamb Chopper is made in Europe exclusively for the American Cypress Grove Chevre. Cypress Grove chevre is traditionally a goat’s milk cheese maker who decided they wanted to get into sheep’s milk, and who can blame them?

 
The California-based Cypress Grove Creamery is a well established cutting edge American artisanal cheese maker with a line up of several successful goat cheeses. I specifically went out of my way to buy this cheese, assuming that it would be made on site.   However, cheesemaker Mary Keehn  has this made in Holland by a gouda maker who works with sheep milk.  Lamb Chopper is thus a Dutch Gouda made to American specifications.  Lamb Chopper is made from 100% organic and pasteurized sheep’s milk. There was no way this much organic sheep’s milk could be resourced in the USA, so this was a workable compromise.   The adorable label has a drawing of a tough looking lamb biker on a Harley, get it…lamb chopper, hardy, har.  This is also my first cheese with its own slogan,  “Born to be mild.” punny!

 
Thus, our little traveller, Lamb Chopper is made in Holland from Dutch sheep’s milk and aged in The Netherlands for three months. It’s then coated in wax for the voyage back to the USA for finishing school. Apparently the cheese maker was also concerned that the bloomy-rind molds from her other cheeses could infect Lamb Chopper if she tried to make it in the same facility, so it’s actually worked out well this way.  Interestingly, no other cheese makers seem to share this concern, and I do see blue cheeses in affinage side by side with non-blues all the time-so that’s a little curious. Lamb Chopper is sold at 4 to 6 months old, and can last up to 8 additional months if uncut. Cypress Grove isn’t just cute and the only cheese with  dual citizenship, it’s also kind of famous.  This cheese received a Silver Award in the 2010 World Cheese Awards.

 
My little wedge of Cypress Grove Lamb Chopper is mildly sitting beside me.  It’s too early and we were both up late at my mother’s retirement party, but still, the cheese calls. It’s a firm white cheese, it really does look like a pecorino more than a gouda to me.  I’m not clear on why this cheese is called “gouda.”  There is a wax rind around the outside which has kept it safe on its journey from Holland to California, and now to me. This cheese smells great, it smells, well, like pecorino, sheepy and mild and savoury, it’s not offensive in the least, but it’s clearly sheep-based, and that appeals to a person like me.

 
here goes…

 
Mmmm, but it is a gouda-and do you know how I know?  It’s sweet!  Part of the gouda making process brings out the natural sweetness in the milk.  Thank God for Gouda!  Lamb Chopper has that same caramelly sweetness. Lamb Chopper is actually a little lier, it’s not born to be mild, it’s actually extremely flavourful.  There are lamb hoof tastes as well as butterscotch, salt, yumminess and a tyrosine crunch in this cheese, which is a surprise.  It’s not overly aged, it’s quite creamy and yielding, so that tyrosine shocked me.  My mouth just doesn’t know where to go with this cheese.  There’s almost too much going on.

 

OK, here’s the thing.  I like sheep’s cheese, and I really like Gouda, and I love that this  is an organic cheese, but I’m not sure if I am totally on fire about this combination.  There’s something a little distracting to me about all these tastes happening simultaneously.  I appreciate the effort, but I  tink I will take my gouda in cow, thank you very much.

Day 78-Halloumi

 

A friend and I were chatting about this blog last night.  “Is it a midlife crisis?”  She asked. I was slightly chagrined.  I don’t think it is a midlife crisis.  First, I’m 39 years old.  Am I old enough?  Second, who has a mid-life crisis involving cheese?  Am I that weird?  Maybe.

Speaking of crisis, there is also a crisis in the Mediterranean.  It’s called “what Willow has been saying about our cheese.”  I’ve had two terrible experiences with cheese from this area, but I’m happy to report that I have gotten to the root of the problem-it’s salt.  It is hot in the Mediterranean, they don’t have nice cold caves.  In order to preserve cheese they need to involve salt.  A lot of salt.  It just had to happen that way, and I need to get over it.

The Island of Cyprus in the Mediterranean is the birthplace of the beloved and much celebrated cheese, Halloumi.   The name Halloumi derives from the Greek word “almi” – meaning salty water-which is further proof of my salt hypothesis. Halloumi is an integral and traditional part of the Cyrpiot diet.  It’s very popular in Crete, Greece, and oddly, Sweden.

Historically Halloumi was the basic requirement of the island diet.  All families needed a good stock of it to get through the winter months when there was no milk. Entire villages worked together to process milk to meet the communal Halloumi needs. All stages of Halloumi making was controlled by a special woman known as a “galatarka” or cheese woman.  She controlled and organized the making of the cheese.

Although it is still made traditionally on the farm,  (perhaps by galatarkas) due to a huge demand for export  Halloumi is more commonly made in factories.  While the original cheese is made from raw sheep’s milk, the factory cheese is made from a less expensive and also pasteurized mixture of sheep,  goat and cow milk.  Halloumi purists feels this has had a negative impact on the taste.  Because of this milk issue, Halloumi does not yet have PDO status.  In order to do so it would have to have an agreed upon ratio of cow to sheep and goat milk.  Thus, for the time being it is not a protected name in the EU.

Similar to the Italian pasta filata cheeses like mozzarella and provolone which are stretched, halloumi is kneaded to create the chewy and unique texture. Halloumi is  formed by submerging the fresh curd in hot whey to soften. It’s then kneaded and  placed in baskets where it is hand-folded into small cheeses. There is virtually no aging.  The cheese is packaged and ready for sale immediately.  Halloumi is often found garnished with mint which both adds to the taste and also acts as a kind of preservative because of its anti-bacterial effect.  Halloumi  is stored in its natural brine and juice and can keep frozen for up to a year!

Halloumi seems to be one of those rare cheeses that people make at home.  The ‘net is full of Halloumi recipes (just like grandma galatarka made!).  Even Nigella Lawson took on making Halloumi for her cooking show. My package of Halloumi said “try it barbecued!” which is something you just don’t expect to see on a cheese.  People  love to grill their Halloumi over the open flame.  It’s the only cheese that doesn’t melt and retains it’s shape with heat.  As it is currently  5 AM in Vancouver in January, that’s not going to happen.  But we will attempt some sort of facsimile.

My slice of Halloumi looks exactly like mozzarella.  It’s pure white with no rind.  When I removed it from its package it was bathed in a little bit of brine.  It looks rubbery.  There is no smell at all.

Here goes…

Fresh it’s quite mild and a little sweet.  It’s loud.  It’s like a really loud, chewy and salty and rubbery mozzarella.  It squeaks on my teeth like a poutine curd.  I don’t taste the sheep or goat at all.  The flavour is quite subtle and salty, but the texture is odd.  It won’t melt .When you chew and chew it, the paste just breaks into smaller pieces.

Now grilled (in my George Foreman, what’s a girl to do)…

Oh, I like this better. It’s crispy on the outside and now the texture has changed-it still squeaks, but at least it breaks down when you chew it.  The squeaking is totally bizarre, it’s like eating live mice.  Every bite is protesting loudly. Mmm, it’s really yummy grilled, I get it, do try it barbecued!

Well, it’s definitely the most palatable of my foray into the cheese of the Mediterranean. It’s not the most toothsome cheese,  but I kind of like it!

Day 77-Mizithra DOC

 


A feel a little badly for my review of Kefalotyri yesterday.  I kind of picked on that poor cheese- like a school yard bully roughing up a little kid with no older siblings around to protect it.  Interestingly, Kefalotryi is actually-almost literally , the big brother of today’s cheese- Mizithra, so no bullying today.  Promise.

As we discussed yesterday, Kefalotyri is a traditional Grecian cheese known as a male cheese as it is made with full-fat milk.  Mizithra is the corresponding female cheese, as it is made from the whey of the same cheese-making process.  In fact, Mizithra is considered the ancestor of all whey cheeses, yes, whey!  When I compare it side by side with Kefalotyri, it has 10% less milk fat, so it’s not just the little sister, it’s the skinny little sister.

Like Kefalotyri, Mizithra is a truly ancient cheese, made since at least the 10th century, BC.  Mizithra, also known as Myzithra is a traditional unpasteurized Greek cheese made from sheep, goat or a mixture of sheep and goat’s milk.   Mizithra is mainly produced on the island of Crete but is also made in other regions of Greece, it is DOC protected, so all Mizithra is Mizithra.  Except it isn’t.  The name Mizithra can actually refer to three different types of cheese-actually three different ages and stages of the same cheese.  Mizithra is enjoyed at each developmental age by the local Greeks, although only the oldest age tends to make it to export.

Mizithra is perhaps the simplest cheese in existence.  It is basic cheesemaking at its finest.  Milk-either sheep, goat or a combination is brought to a scald and then curdled with the addition of rennet or whey from a previous batch.  The curdling can even occur with the addition of something acidic, like vinegar or lemon juice.  Once the curds form they are poured into a bag of cheese cloth and then left to drain. Sometimes the whey dripping out is saved to start the next batch of mizithra.

After a few days of dripping, the mizithra has formed into a soft ostrich egg-shaped ball of cheese described as “sweet, fresh and moist.”  The cheese is often sold and eaten at this stage, where it is used as a desert cheese due to it’s mild and sweet taste-like a ricotta.  Or it moves on to the next stage, the raunchy middle age.  At this stage the cheese is rubbed with salt and left to air dry.  The longer it ages, the firmer and saltier it becomes. In the olden days it was placed in little bags of cheesecloth and hanged from the trees near the ocean-apparently imparting an “oceany” taste to the cheese.  I’m unclear if this still occurs, but I like to think that it does. If the cheese is sold and eaten at this age it is both firm and sour  and is known as xynomizithra or sour mizithra.   This stage is described as an “acquired taste” with a “sour tangy flavour” and an “unpleasant smell.” Doesn’t that sound fabulous?

If the Mizithra ages even longer (and let’s hope that’s swaying from a tree in a muslin sack overlooking the Mediterranean)  it becomes extremely hard and salty and is lastly known and sold as anthotyros-this is the sample I have today. Anthotyros is used grated or crumbled over pasta dishes, or eaten plain with bread and olives.

My little half-ostrich egg of anthotyros Mizithra did not appreciate being cut at all. It crumbled into a little cheesy pile and was nearly impossible to slice (see photo below). It’s a bright white-coloured cheese with an almost powdery looking paste.  It doesn’t even look like cheese.  There are no eyes and no discernible rind.  It smells faintly of barn–like there’s a sheep herd about a mile away over the hill.

Here goes…

What the f*ck?  No seriously, what is this?  I don’t think it’s a cheese.  I think it’s  a desiccant. I just popped a chunk into my mouth and all the saliva disappeared.  It’s outrageously salty and barny and dry and weird and awful. How in the world did it last 2000 years? I’m serious! And to think that this is the aged and more generally acceptable version, imagine what sour mizithra tastes like!  Yikes!  Luckily I think you can only get that one in Crete.  I don’t get this cheese at all-unless if grated over a pasta dish it turns into something else entirely-but lots of hard grate-able cheeses also taste good on their own.  Not this one.  Beware!

Day 76-Kefalotyri DOC

What makes a great cheese?  Is it an amazing history?  Is it a flavour that makes the hair stand up on your arms?  Or is it-perhaps-an organized advertising campaign?  Before starting this blog, I would have assumed some combination of the first two- but I am realizing-with some disappointment,  that it’s often the advertising that’s really the key.

Some cheeses, like parmigiano-reggiano and Appenzeller have their own organized advocates who ensure that their good name is well represented in the world, and in the world of cheese.  These amazing consortiums have websites, rules, regulations, and advertising campaigns.  As a result, their cheeses are well-known and dependable.  Other cheeses, like today’s Greek Kefalotyri, seem to be virtually un-championed.

I had an extremely challenging time finding out much about kefalotyri, despite the fact that it has been around since at least the 10th century BC.  Yes, that’s right-this is a Byzantinian cheese.  It is virtually invisible on the ‘net, except as an afterthought or footnote-which is a shame for such a historically important cheese.  Although you may have never heard of the Greek favorite, Kefalotyri (because of lack of advertising, no doubt) you have most likely seen it at Greek restaurants served as the dish, Saganaki.  Saganaki  is made of slices of Kefalotyri covered in egg and bread crumbs and then deep fried and served with lemon.  Yup, deep-fried cheese sticks old school style.  Kefalotyri also sometimes appears in Spanikopita (spinach Pie) instead of Feta-so we are eating this cheese, but it’s far under our radar.

Greeks love their cheese, and they have been eating it arguably longer than anyone else. I was surprised to learn that the Greeks eat more cheese per capita than anyone else in the world-including Italians and French!  Maybe they are too busy eating their cheese to write about it?  Who knows?  It’s all Greek to me.

The name Kefalotyri comes from Greek word “kefalo” that means hat-as the cheese is roughly hat-shaped. Kefalotyri can be made with sheep’s milk, or a combination of sheep and goat.  Either way it is protected by the DOC as a historically important and significant cheese.  Not that anyone appears to care.  It is traditionally made from raw milk, but pasteurized versions also exist.  Kefalotyri is known in Greece as the male cheese as it is made with full-fat milk- as opposed to the female cheeses which are made with whey.   Hmmph.

I have been unable to determine exactly where this cheese is made.  Is it industrial?  Is it farm-made?  No one’s talking.  Regardless, the milk is heated, curdled, and packed into molds.  When it comes out of the molds Kefalotyri is salted, which acts to preserve the cheese and allow it to become firmer.  The cheese ages for three to four months before it is sold. A layer of paraffin is applied to the aged cheese to protect it from drying.

Apparently the appearance of kefalotyri varies throughout the year depending on the ratio of sheep to goat’s milk being used.  There are no hard and fast rules, it’s kind of however it all works out. At some times of the year, kefalotyri is white, and other seasons it is yellow. In either case, this is a very hard cheese which gets firmer as it ages, forming small interior eyes in the cheese paste.

My little slice of Kefalotyri is full of mystery and legendary tales-if only it could speak!  It’s a wan, almost white cheese, so it’s probably more goat, and less sheep.  It’s a firm looking cheese with tiny eyes, I can’t see any rind, or paraffin, but maybe that’s was removed at the cheese shop.  The smell is very mild, I don’t get any hint of sheep or goat, and would swear this was a cow cheese.  Except it isn’t.

Here goes…

Ah, but it is a goat and sheep cheese.  That’s now obvious.  It’s incredibly salty-the saltiest cheese yet.   That makes it challenging to really get to the flavour-except that the goat and sheep tang is also quite predominant. The salt is really over the top. I get that it was historically needed as a preservative, but dial it back a little, people!  Maybe it’s also white from all the salt. The texture isn’t really doing anything for me either-it’s quite firm, and refuses to melt in my mouth, it just sits there on my tongue, like a salt lozenge made of goat. Yuck!

OK, Kefalotyri, I have to respect your history, despite your heinous lack of internet presence, (and taste) neither of which is really your fault.  Although this isn’t my slice of cheese, I do think it needs a cheese champion.  If any Greeks are reading, maybe this is your golden opportunity!