Cheese 148 Fiore Sardo: Fine, Foul, Fantastic!

There are many different types of pecorino cheese-and I have reviewed several of them on this site, but today’s cheese, is a very special one. Pecorino Sardo, also known as Fiore Sardo (the flower of Sardinia) It is a DOP (Denominazione d’Origine) cheese given PDO (Protected designation of Origin) status. Many people confuse this special cheese with its more famous relative, Pecorino Romano, but our little flower of Sardinia is a richer and less salty version. It’s also the traditional cheese used in pesto, providing a nice balance to the garlic and basil.This ancient cheese actually predates the more famous Pecorino Romano. Where Pecorino Romano can be a “tad biting,” Fiore Sardo tends to be less overpowering and delicate-or so they say.

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Fiore Sardo is a firm cheese, traditionally made from raw sheep’s milk specifically from the Sardinian breed of sheep. This is a truly ancient cheese, said to have originated during the  Bronze Age!  This cheese is traditionally made in small mountain huts by shepherds. The natural smoke from open fires in the huts give this cheese its characteristic smoky taste.

After the cheese is formed, it is briefly brined and then placed on a  natural rush mat suspended  above the fireplace of the mountain hut. This is old-school cheese smoking, and thus, I approve. I actually can’t stand “smoked” cheeses normally, but I must make an exception for this mountain-hut smoking. After this smoking, the cheese wheels are transferred the roof of the hut before going underground in a cellar for the last couple of months, where the wheels are flipped and rubbed with olive oil (!!!)

WARNING-THE INFORMATION AHEAD IS SLIGHTLY VILE

Fiore Sardo can be processed further into the most infamous cheese in the world-Casu Marzu, which is a fly maggot infested version of this cheese. As Casu is illegal, even in Sardinia, I doubt I will ever have the opportunity to review it, so this is about the closest I’m going to get. So shall we-for a minute, discuss dear Casu Marzu? This fabulous cheese goes for beyond fermentation into decomposition, this occurs via the digestive track of the larvae of the cheese fly, Piophila casei. The rind of the Fiore Sardo is cut open and the larvae are deliberately introduced. The fermentation of the larvae digestion breaks down the cheese fats making the cheese very soft and liquid. The live and translucent worms are ingested (live!!!!) along with the cheese. These larvae can jump up to 15 centimetres in the air so people cover their sandwiches with one hand as they eat their bread and cheese. I really wish I was joking!

Alas, today’s cheese is the non-maggot infested version of Fiore Sardo, although I must confess something. When I sat down to write this review I thought the cat had been sick somewhere near the computer. After searching for a few minutes, I realized it was the cheese. This is not a joke. It actually smells exactly like cat-sick, and this is WITHOUT the addition of fermentation and maggots. I just hope you appreciate the lengths I go to bring you the latest of cheese on this blog.

My thin slice of Fiore Sardo is dry and robust. The paste is textured throughout with small crystals. The paste is creamy in the interior, then gets darker brown near the rind. This is a naturally smoked cheese, and you can smell that smoke (through the cat-sick smell) as you get closer. It’s, um, pungent. I’m actually a little afraid, but at least there are no maggots leaping up to 15 centimetres from it, I must take small solace in this fact.

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Here goes…

Holy crap! FLAVOUR!!!! INTENSE!!!! It’s sharp, very sharp, and salty, and astringent and sheepy and crunchy and then smoky. It’s completely over the top. I think my husband would actually not be able to eat this one without immediate expiring . This is probably the most intense cheese I have tasted-and that’s saying something. It basically kicks you in the face, over and over again. It’s like every strong cheese taste in the world has been distilled into this one cheese. But, actually, it’s really good. Mmmm. It’s so freaky that it’s fabulous. It’s disgusting, but in a completely compelling way. This one is definitely NOT a starter cheese, but if you are looking for something to strip down your taste buds and reconfigure your idea of what is edible, go for it!

Cheese 145 Luscious Limburger-a Much Maligned Beauty

My step dad’s parents were great lovers of Limburger in his childhood. One parent or the other would stop-at any point in the day- and inquire, “want one?” If the other agreed, then a sandwich would be created. A specific sandwich: dark rye bread, thick slices of onion, brown mustard and smeared slabs of Limburger. These sandwiches were eaten wordlessly by his parents, but with great enjoyment. To my step dad, this was,  perhaps, the most vile concoction ever created. He never did sample this infamous sandwich, but his parents remained devoted to the Limburger sandwich all of their days. I have known this story for years, and thought it was original to his family. In researching this blog post, I discovered I was wrong. This was in fact, a famous sandwich! The Limburger Sandwich,  one connected with and enjoyed by working class folks around the world for over 130 years.

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Limburger is perhaps the most infamous of all cheeses for its stench. So let’s unpack that now, shall we?  That “something died in my toes 3 months ago” smell  of Limburger, is actually caused by a unique bacteria. Limburger is a washed rind cheese, and this bacterium is applied several times during the ripening. It functions to decompose the cheese, and by doing so it transforms the cheese in a few months time from a fresh curd- similar to feta- into  a stinky one that eventually smells a little like pee. This bacteria, Brevibacterium linens, is-in fact, the very same one found on human skin. Brevibacterium linens is also partly responsible for body and foot odour, so that familiar smell is no coincidence. It really does stink like feet, and armpits, and……

Originally made in the Belgian area of Limbourg-hence the name, Limburger is widely made and enjoyed in Germany as well. Limburger accompanied German and Belgian immigrants to America in the late 19th century. It was a taste of the old country and a nostalgic food that connected them to a home they had lost.  Limburger  was closely related and associated with these new immigrants, and jokes about the cheese and about the immigrants went hand in hand.  Vaudeville comedians called it the “cheese you can find in the dark.” The new world hybrid dialect of English, German and  Dutch was called “Limburger English.”  Limburger symbolized the lower class and also comedy. These new immigrants, they were so funny! They couldn’t speak correctly, and they ate weird cheese! Limburger and new immigrants were often maligned. In fact, in 1902, the Louisville, Kentucky’s health officer, Dr. M.K. Allen, banned Limburger and promised to prosecute any and all Limburger dealers. Determining that its bacteria made it “unwholesome.”

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As if that wasn’t enough, then Prohibition came, and virtually brought an end to Limburger. It was traditionally a pub cheese, served in a sandwich with beer, and when the taverns closed, there was such Limburger excess that it had to be fed to the hogs! (Lucky pigs.) Really, the story of Limburger is the story of the North American palate. As our appetite for cheese in North America has become more sanitized, our taste for Limburger has plummeted. That along with a century of jokes and insults make it no wonder that poor old Limburger is hard to find these days. Once the great cheese of the working man, Limburger has been relegated to the back of the cheese case.

My sample of Limburger is from the St. Mang company, in Germany. It’s made from pasteurized milk, and is in a pretty red foil package. When I peel back the wrap, I smell an ever so pleasant odour of feet, and perhaps just a little crotch-I shall admit that here, but it was simply charming! It’s no worse than a Taleggio or an Oka, and it is nowhere as gnarly as an Epoisses or a Stinking Bishop. I don’t know what all the fuss is about!  This is hardly the stinkiest cheese I have smelled, it’s just one of the many washed rind cheeses that use bacterium linens, and when you have bacterium linens, my friends, you have body odour. That’s just the way it is.

My Limburger is sticky and slightly orange and brown on the outside rind. It’s a rectangular cheese with a pattern of the cheese mould slightly imprinted. My cheese is “best before” 2 days from now, so I know it’s just perfect. It’s ready to smear on some rye bread with onions, which, alas, I do not possess. What a shame! Yes, this cheese does reek, let me be clear, but why is reeking such a bad thing? Why do we have to pretend we live in a world where yummy things don’t stink? I refuse, I embrace the reek.

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Here goes…

Mmmm. It’s like meat, and cheese, and asparagus, and salt, and arm pit, and shoes all rolled into one. Actually, it’s freaking great. It’s relatively mild…relatively…yes, the rind is more intense in flavour compared to the much milder interior paste, but the interior is just cheesy goodness. The rind is giving me wafts of uric acid (that means pee, by the way) and ammonia, but I really dig it. I really dig it! Did I mention I dig this? Holy Hannah, this cheese is really great, one million immigrants couldn’t be wrong. Go out and get some, pick up some rye bread, onions and brown mustard and get connected to your roots. Limburger, you are a keeper!

Cheese 143 St. Albert Cheddar-Extra Old and Extra Yummy

My husband returned home earlier this week from a business trip in Ontario. Like all good husbands returning from a business trip, he brought me a gift, but like the best husband in the word, this gift was a cheese not available locally! Take this to heart, fair readers. If you are returning from abroad and considering which gift to bring home, why not cheese? Cheese says “I love you” more than silly jewels or horrid flowers.

I have never seen this cheese before, as it seems to be available only in Ontario. This charming-looking cheddar has an old-timey wrapper-which I do appreciate. It’s from the St Albert Cheese folks, in Ontario. According to their website, people have been making cheese here under the auspices of St Albert since the end of the 19th century, and not just any cheese- but a “highly renowned Cheddar” the St-Albert.
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Since its humble beginnings, five generations have continued the tradition of cheese making in St Albert. St Albert is actually run by the St-Albert Cooperative Cheese Manufacturing Association. The cooperative came together with the “collective will of a handful of Eastern Ontario milk producers determined to process their own milk,” and also includes a dairy bar, open to thousands of visitors each year. According to a tip I found online, if you go to the dairy itself, you can watch the cheese-making from a glassed-in gallery…and buy cheese “off-cuts” at a reduced price. Sounds like fun.

It looks like St Albert’s is a pretty big deal in Ontario, they have a robust line up of cheeses, and are available widely. Interestingly, it looks like there was a terrible fire last February at the cheese plant that nearly ruined operations. Thankfully, other cheese-makers stepped in (under supervision) to save the cheese. OK, now I almost want to weep, that’s one of the sweetest things ever. The St Albert’s folks also have their very own store for their products, it’s called Cheddar et Cetera . All of the cheese at St Albert’s is made of pasteurized, local (to Ontario) cow’s milk (non-organic.)

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As I remove the wrapper (once again charmed by the old-timey drawing of a cow) a yummy, sharp cheddary smell emerges. Oh goody! It’s a pale white and yellow cheese with faint signs of cheddaring in the paste. I don’t see any crystals. This is the “extra-old” or “très fort”- actually, I like the phrase “très fort” better…but how old is extra aged?

Here goes…

Mmmmm. Damn fine cheese! This is a real cheddar, it tastes like what I want cheddar to be, but so often cheddar isn’t. It’s sharp and is making my saliva glands squeak happily. It’s a great mixture of salt and that astringent aged taste, but it’s also just a tiny bit sweet. It breaks apart in your mouth,  crumbles, and then dissipates. There’s a very subtle crunch of tyrosine in the paste, to remind you that this is cheddar you are eating.  It’s good, it’s really good!

Damn Ontario, they just get everything.

If you see this cheese, buy it and eat it, you will be happy.

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Cheese 142 Le Chimay à la Bière-a Stinky Little Trappist Cheese

Before I started my journey into cheese, I was under the impression that the really stinky cheeses were blue. It didn’t take long for me to realize that this was incorrect. Although blue cheeses can be raunchy, the REAL stinkers are washed-rind cheeses, sometimes called “smear-rind” cheese. The reason for this is the extra bacterial goodness they have-because sometimes, internal paste bacteria just isn’t good enough! As these special cheeses age, they are regularly “washed” or smeared with something or other that encourages bacteria to bloom all along the surface. These surface bacteria generally smell something like feet, giving these cheeses that fabulous “I haven’t showered forever and have just walked 20 miles through the jungle and now removed my socks” odour that I am so very fond of.

Thus, I have great hopes for today’s cheese, a beer-smeared Belgian cow’s cheese, made by Trappist monks in their very own Abbey. I’m not really sure why Trappist monks have such a connection with smeared-cheeses, but they do, and let’s not quibble. People who dedicate their lives to prayer and smeared cheese are a-ok in my books, so a minute of quite reflection and thanks for the monks of Chimay.

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Trappist monks have been making cheese in the Abbey of Notre-Dame de Scourmont since 1876. Chimay country is cow country, and there is a long history of farmstead cheese-making in this area (just north of the French border.) Chimay cheese continues this tradition, and is made from the milk of local cows around the abbey- although this is a modernized operation, (praise the lord!) The monks of Chimay make four kinds of cheese, but they also make several types of beer. In this case, their cheese is smeared with their beer, bringing together the very best of both worlds. Interestingly, one of the ales made at the monastery is exclusively for the monks. Jealous!

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The store-created label on my sample of cheese says that it is made of raw milk, but the Chimay website refers to pasteurization, so I’m going to go with this one being a pasteurized cheese. If it’s really important to you, check this one out for yourself, as there is some ambiguity.   It’s a handsome cheese, with a gorgeous orange natural washed-rind, a little bumpy, like a yeasty sandpaper created by the development of the Bacterium Linens culture. It almost smells like a bread rising, mixed with a little bit of cheese, mmmm, cheese bread. The interior paste is quite yellow and giving, there are a few small eyes in the paste.

Here goes…

Mmmm, it’s quite supple and smooth, with just a hint of armpit. The interior paste is just divine, the texture is so inviting and springy and sticky. The rind is more intense with a faint whiff of ammonia-but not overwhelming. The rind is ever so slightly bitter, but this is common in beer-smeared cheeses, it’s not off-putting, and has tiny little salt crystal crunch which mixes in nicely with the paste. Actually, it’s pretty tame for a washed-rind cheese. This would be a good “starter” washed-rind cheese for the stinky cheese newbie, one gets that feeling of old feet without being overwhelmed-plus the texture is just divine.

Nicely done!

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Cheese 141 Pecorino Affienato, a Hairy little “Honey” of a Cheese

I just received results this morning for my genetic heritage test, and I am thrilled to learn that I am 1% Italian. I always felt drawn to Italy, and the lovely foods and specifically cheeses there, but now I truly know that it is my blood that is drawn to all things Italian. Thus today, both my blood and I present an Italian cheese-and this one’s a looker.

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Have you ever peered into the cheese case of a store and wondered, “what the hell is that?” I actually do all the time, but this one takes the cake. Pecorino Affientato is a sheep milk cheese that is covered in a layer of hay. Actually, it really looks like fine dry grass to me, hay seems more robust than this . It looks like a weird, hairy, ancient sort of rustic cheese. It’s a little frightening to behold, but I shall soldier on. My Italian ancestors ate this sort of cheese, and so shall I! Sheep milk cheese has a long history in Italy, specifically in the area of Tuscany, where the tradition also occurs of wrapping the cheese in “straw” (which you don’t eat, silly) to give the cheese an extra-grassy flavour.

As if that wasn’t enough, this cheese is ALSO infused with honey-right in the cheese. This pecorino (remember, there are hundreds of pecorino cheeses, pecorino just means sheep milk cheese) is made on a commune in Tuscany. And by commune, I don’t mean hippie-type commune, alas, although “grass” is involved. These people actually produce something besides hazy memories . This commune was started in the 1970’s by a group of friends, and the farm has run as a co-operative since. They do everything on site here, they raise the sheep, milk the sheep, create the cheese, package it, and send it away to be consumed by lucky folk across the world. All the people who work on the farm also live on it.

Il Forteto makes a wide variety of cheese, including some DOP designated pecorino cheese. They made the  Pecorino Bigio which I reviewed previously and wasn’t that crazy for,  and Pecorino Doro which I also reviewed and ADORED, but the Affienato is perhaps the most interesting pecorino. Bigio is covered in ash, and Doro is really aged…but honey and hay, now THAT’S something!

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My little wedge of hairy-looking Pecorino Affientato is simpering beside me here. It’s honey-coloured with a fine rosemary looking hay covering-which I shall not eat. It really smells barny. Like a sheep hanging out in a bale of hay with some honey combs lying around. The paste is firm, there are no eyes.

Here goes…

Hmmmm. This one is goooood. It is sweet and melts across your tongue. It’s herbaceous and grassy, it somehow reminds me of camomile tea. As you approach the rind there is a distinctive grassy note. The sheep taste is present, of course, but it is much moister than most pecorino cheese, I suspect that hay covering was retaining some of the moisture. The honey is quite subtle here, if you didn’t know about it, you might just assume it was from the sheep milk. This is a really groovy cheese and it would make an excellent addition to any cheese board, it’s showy and spectacular.

Bravo!

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Cheese 140 Etorki-A Modern Basque Twist on an Ancient “Sheepy” Favourite

When we think of the noble beasts who give us cheese, what kind of images come to mind? Cows? Of course. Goats? Maybe, but how many of us think of sheep?  Poor, maligned sheep are really the progenitors of cheese. That ancient mythical shepherd who forgot a skein of milk in a cave that became the world’s first cheese… that would have been sheep milk. Yes, the first cheese was a sheep’s cheese. Shepherds herded sheep, (and sometimes goats) but really, cows are very new on the scene, yet they have all the glory. That’s kind of sad for a sheep cheese lover like me.  One almost has to go back to the “Old Country” to find a decent sheep cheese, and there’s nothing more “old country” than Basque.

Today’s cheese, Etorki, is a Basque cheese, named in homage for the great history of sheep cheese making in this region. In fact, the word “etorki” is a Basque word meaning “origin.” Basque sheep farmers have been making a cheese kind of like this, for close to 4000 years.  Alas, or perhaps, luckily, my cheese is not 4000 years old. Etorki was first created in the 1970’s (like me) and is produced by the  Fromagerie des Chaumes at Mauléon, in southwestern France. Etorki is a pasteurized cheese, made in the style of ancient Pyrenees cheese, but this time with a few modern conveniences-such as pasteurization and vacuum packing- thrown in for good measure.

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Local, black or red-faced Manech ewes provide all of the milk for Etorki cheese. In total, flocks of 620 local shepherds and dairy farmers pool their milk to make this cheese.  It takes a total of six gallons of milk to produce just one wheel of Etorki, which is an awful lot of milk when one considers the size of a sheep’s udder. It’s udderly impressive! Etorki is made in a limited run- only from late December to mid July. As is traditional in this region, Etorki curds are pressed but not cooked. After they are unmolded, the cheese is brined for 2 hours before being dried and having salt rubbed on the rind. This rind salt-rubbing happens several times during the first week, then the cheese is vacuum-sealed  before going into affinage for three to six months.

My Etorki has a rusty, bumpy natural rind because of the molds formed during pressing. The rind is orange with white speckles and according to sources-inedible-so I shall stay away. The interior paste is creamy and has small eyes. The smell is faint, yet inviting. It’s mysterious and delicious smelling, but subtle and beckoning. I can wait no longer…

Oh, my jaw just squelched! Do you know that funny twinge you get sometimes with cheese? That’s actually your salivary glands going a little crazy. It’s a creamy, voluptuous, caramel-tasting cheese. It’s much softer than I anticipated, more like a very young gouda. It melts in the mouth and yields to the teeth. There’s something almost floral in the taste. It’s very subtle, yet completely compelling. Actually, I love this cheese, the texture is perfect and the taste mysterious and well-balanced. I was worried about all that salt-brining and rubbing, but stay away from the rind and it’s not an issue.

I will definitely be eating Etorki again, it’s a keeper!
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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