Ah, the Power of Cheese...

Usually, when I'm in Italy, I try as many different wines as I can. This time around, though, I find that I'm sticking almost exclusively with Pinot Bianco, mostly because it's well nigh unfindable in my neck of the States, and as a result I'm nearly sick to death of most Pinot Grigio!

Ah, but cheese is another matter! Wasn't Charles de Gaulle supposed to have said, "How can you govern a country with over 246 kinds of cheese?" Italy, for one, surely has way more. Perhaps that goes a long way toward explaining Italian government?! (The idea being, of course, that each one of these cheeses didn't originate in a factory which simply decided to produce a new flavor, but rather that they were themselves the products of other long-standing, deep-rooted, age-old local traditions. Must be quite the challenge to govern in such a situation!!)

So, here's an ongoing record of some of the strange and wonderful Italian cheeses I recommend! These are often very difficult to find in the U.S., but--although I've never tried their service--it turns out that www.igourmet.com carries a good number of them! (In fact, I enclose their descriptions and ordering links for the cheeses here!)

First of all, my current hands-down favorite: La Burrata!

"Burrata is a sack of mozzarella filled with buttery cream. It has recently become a 'hot' gourmet item in places like New York City and Beverly Hills. Extremely hard to find because of its very short shelf life, Burrata must be flown in from Italy the day after it is made then quickly sold to consumers and eaten right away. A rare delicacy from Italy's Puglia region, it is wrapped in asfodelo leaves, which indicate the freshness of the cheese! As long as the outer wrapping stays green, the cheese within is still fresh. Serve Burrata like you would Mozzarella di Bufala: paired with fresh tomato, onion, olive oil, cracked black pepper and basil leaves. Cut into Burrata and watch its creamy liquid center ooze all over your plate. Enjoy Burrata with special company, as it is a treasure to be shared."

Other great picks from the Tre-Venezie region...

(My husband's favorite!) "Montasio is a pasture-terraced mountain located to the northeast of Venice in the Friuli-Venezia region of Italy. The cheese Montasio was originally made by the monks who occupied the monastery that owned those pastures in the thirteenth century. Today, the cheese is a DOC cheese, which means its properties and production are protected by law. Montasio can now be made legally in all of Friuli- Venezia Giulia and parts of Veneto. Made in large wheels, the flavor of this cheese is nutty, and slightly fruity. Since the mountain milk from which Montasio is made is high in butterfat, the cheese has a richer flavor with hints of butterscotch."

"This stunning wine soaked pecorino caciotta hails from Tuscany. The cheese is formed and aged to full ripeness in Tuscany, then brought to Antonio Carpenedo and his sons, cheese merchants and owners of La Casearia in Treviso near Venice. It is here the finishing touches are made to produce this special cheese. La Casearia is located in the Marca Trevigiana area, famous for its food and wine. This Tuscan sheep’s milk cheese is dipped in local Cabernet marc. The rich and flavorful taste of Pecorino mixes very well with the characteristics of Cabernet wine. This aromatic cheese ages and evolves elegantly into a delicate wine infused prize. Pecorino Ubriaco is typically eaten as a table cheese, served with the edible rind."

"Piave cheese is named after the river Piave, whose source is found at Mount Peralba in Val Visdende, in the northernmost part of the province of Belluno, Italy. A winding course brings the river toward the bottom of the valley, until it reaches the plain at the foot of the prealpi venete mountains in the province of Treviso. Piave cheese is born from the cheese making traditions of the land surrounding the ancient river, in which the curd is cooked and the cheese is aged until it is hard. The area surrounding the river is also where the milk is collected to produce Piave. The cheese has an intense, full-bodied flavor that increases with age and makes this cheese absolutely unique. This Piave variety is Mezzano, which means it is aged between for six months. We also offer a Vecchia variety which is aged for one year."

  • Spilimbergo (or "Carnia"):
    • "Our Spilimbergo is produced exclusively in Italy's Friuli region. It is a 'Carnia' type cheese, a typical local cow's milk cheese made in the Friuli mountains. Made with fresh mountain cow's milk, its rind is smooth and regular. The interior is light colored but becomes slightly darker as it ages. Our Stagionato variety is aged for 6 months, giving it a compact texture with small eye formation. Spilimbergo's flavor is best described as savory, reminiscent of Parmigiano Reggiano and Swiss Gruyere."

      And a couple of other miscellaneous treats I picked up at the market cheese stall this past week:

      "Strachitunt was first created in the Valtaleggio region of Italy in the late 1800's and was enjoyed there until World War II, after which its commercial production ceased entirely. Our supplier revived its recipe and began making the cheese again in 2002. We herald the fact that this once glorious cheese is once again being made according to the traditional methods, maintaining all of its original characteristics. Handcrafted from unpasteurized local milk taken only from Bruna Alpina cows that live at an altitude of 900 meters, it is aged in limestone caves in Valtaleggio for over two months. Strachitunt has a complicated manufacture, in that it must be produced with both morning and evening milk, creating a layered cheese with two distinct textures - one soft and one firmer. Natural blue, gray, and green molds streak throughout its interior, giving Strachitunt its characteristic aroma and sweet yet tangy flavor."

      "Manouri is a traditional ancient Greek cheese that is made from the whey of feta, blended with sheep's milk cream. In addition to being used in the traditional Greek delicacy spanakopita, this rindless log-shaped cheese is an exceptionally delicious eating cheese. With a moist, soft texture, Manouri is at first soft and buttery, followed by a uniquely lemony aftertaste."

      Hope you can run into them and enjoy them wherever you are!

      (More to come!!)

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