Taste and Terroir at Blue Cow Cheese (Invited)
I never thought the world of cheese could be so rich, be it in range as well as the depth of history that it has. Blue Cow Cheese invited us to learn more about cheese while providing us with 5 small courses, tailored by Kimon Georgiou. Kimon eloquently provided us with information on different cheeses that were available from various provinces in Italy and I will try my best to recap what I learnt through this post.
History of Cheese in Italy
Different province in Italy will develop different types of cheese with different flavours. The flavour of the cheese will usually be determined by the type of animal that produced the milk and the environment the animal grazed at. The interesting thing is that those provinces also has different animal distributions such as sheep that's largely available in Sardinia or bulls that travelled to Veneto through the Mesopotamia area. Due to the different animals, each province also produced different types of cheese and usually people in the province will only use cheese that is available in the area.
Kimon emphasized that the strength of Italian food is not in the technique that they used but in the exceptional ingredients that the people use. In Italy, there is a recipe for each available Italian cheese. The main pillar of Italian food is quite similar to French and Spanish, with the exception of one or two ingredients. The four pillars are olive oil, cheese, flour and charcuterie.
Blue Cow Cheese introduced the plain mozzarella with basil oil and smoked buffalo mozzarella sample for us to try first. I really like the smoky flavour that came out from the cheese and can imagine this as a really good topping in pizza! Kimon said that the best mozzarella came from Campania (mozzarella di bufala Campana), the southern part of Italy. Whereas Veneto region produces sweeter mozzarella which is also higher in protein.
One of the most important things that need to be thoroughly checked when making mozzarella is the length of time the curd rests in 35 degree (C) hot water. Some artisan cheese makers still use the wooden vats and stretching by hands with wooden stick technique. Mozzarella's outer body changed in texture when the hot curd is plunged into the cold water. When you purchase mozzarella, the colour needs to be porcelain white because it will shows the good quality of the milk as well as the correct procedure in making the cheese.
After explaining about the rules of the stretching techniques that can only be done to cheese that came from the milk of buffalo or cows. Kimon introduced us to penne pasta that was topped with smoked buffalo Mozzarella and grated Trentingrana cheese. The small plate of simple pasta was so delicious and the good thing was that we got the recipe on how to make it. In Italy, children were taught to cook their own pasta at school which I thought was a great idea to introduce them to a life skill.
Robiola (Part of Stracchino Family)
We were given three different robiola cheeses from Rocchetta Robiola, Bosina Robiola, La Tur Robiola. Robiola itself is the term that refers to the mixing of milk when creating the cheese. All robiola cheese can be eaten by itself and served with either oil, pepper or salt.
- Rocchetta Robiola is hubby's favourite out of the three when he tested it. This cheese is a combination of pasteurised cow's, sheep's and goat's milk. The cheese itself came with a thin rind and tasted quite earthy and nutty. In terms of texture it's quite silky and creamy.
- Bosina Robiola is my favourite out of all three especially because it wasn't too soft and buttery. It's a combination of pasteurised cow's and sheep's milk. The colour of the cheese is ivory white with a creamy bit in the middle. The luscious cheese tasted salty and sweet at the same time due to the gentle interior.
- La Tur Robiola has a slightly runny exterior and I felt that La Tur was richer than the other two Robiola. The exterior of La Tur is very creamy and soft with density that reminded me a lot of cheesecake.
Pecorino is the term used for all cheese created from sheep's milk. Kimon gave us a diagram of the strength of Pecorino before we were served with three different Pecorino cheeses. He said that a lot of people usually do cheese and wine pairings together but he wanted to do something a little bit different. Kimon actually paired the cheese with three different types of bread for the vertical tasting.
- Scoperino (from Emilia Romagna) with plain sourdough. Scoperino was the sweetest out of all three but the aftertaste didn't last for long.
- Pecorino Debbene (Bio) - (from Sardinia) with rye sourdough. Sarda sheep has beautiful mohair fur on them and the Pecorino Debbene at Valsana is only created from the female ewes of Sarda breed. The breed itself is domestic to the island of Sardinia and is considered the best for the production of its milk.
- Pecorino Romano - Sardinia with dried fruits bread. Kimon said the Pecorino Romano produced in Sardinia is possibly the best Pecorino Romano cheese when compared with other regions. It has quite a long aftertaste and same sweetness with Pecorino Debbene. During the war time, Pecorino Romano was the staple food of the soldiers and it is the only Pecorino cheese with the DOP status (Protected Designation of Origin) to ensure the highest quality of the product.
Parmigiano Reggiano cheese was made purely from cow's milk with a unique technique called the sourdough technique. In the old times, when milk becomes sour then the PH can be corrected using the whey (milk serum) from the previous day. This tradition carries on until now because it gives the distinctive flavour to the cheese. The process of aging can take up to three years to create cheese wheels with compact and grainy texture. The European Union acknowledged Parmigiano Reggiano as a DOP product which ensured that the cheese remains a genuine traditional product to be produced in the highest quality. Because of its grainy texture, this cheese falls into the category of grana (granular).
The cow that produced the milk only is usually fed hay from the area of origin and there are no additives being put inside the cheese. It was also a cheese that literally took days in the making (including holidays) because the raw milk needs to be processed daily without any preservatives.
Trentingrana is made in the same way as Parmigiano Reggiano and considered the best type of grana cheese. It was produced exclusively in the Trentino region next to the border of Austria, using the milk from the mountain areas to give the cheese the distinctive flavour.
Gorgonzola is a specific type of blue cheese created in the Northern part of Italy. We were given an eclair with gorgonzola cheese produced in Tosi (DOP) which was very soft and buttery.
The milk that was used came from the area around the Lakes Maggiore and Orta where the producer created about 200 forms per day. The curd stays in big pieces and drains in cotton clothes. Then the gorgonzola was aged for at least 100-120 days at 2C. During the aging period, holes were poked to create space for air to enter and create blue moulds in the cheese.
Ubriaco is a term used when cheese was infused with other ingredients such as wine or beer. On this occasion we were treated to a slice of Van Tricht's Duvel (beer) cheese. It was amazing, in one bite I could taste the blond beer that wasn't too overpowering.
Another ubriaco cheese that we tried was blue cheese that was treated with organic passito wine Fior d'Arancio from Padua. This was served to us in an Eclair which was topped with caramelised orange peel. I like this one compared to the Tosi Gorgonzola because this one was sweeter and fruity.
Kimon's last message was for everyone in the food industry to go a step further, innovate and go their own route rather than copying what other people have done. He also said that when we have the time of our life, we need to challenge things, question ourselves and the system that we know in order to improve it. I think this message rings through for everyone outside of the food industry too.
The taste & terroir night presented by Blue Cow Cheese was definitely an eye opener session filled with information and served as a perfect appreciation of all things cheese.