Monthly Archives: May 2010

Smokin Sheep’s Ricotta: Marcelli Formaggi

Marcelli Ricotta Ginepro

Marcelli Ricotta Ginepro

Great ricotta used to only be available in Italy. In fact, tasting fresh ricottas when in Sienna or Tuscany was bittersweet, because you knew that what you could get at home would only pale in comparison. Those vibrant flavors and textures were only available as long as you stood on foreign soil.

Now, fresh, delicious ricotta runs abundantly and freely through the blood of American cheese shops and recipes for homemade ricotta are easy to find and make.

But there is still one ricotta that is particular to Italy. Unlike the best fresh sorts that are also made domestically, Marcelli Formaggi ricotta is specific to the rolling hills of Abruzzo.

The Marcelli family makes many different types of ricotta, the bounties of which are covered in the new issue of Culture cheese magazine, but my favorite is their Ricotta al fumo Ginepro. It is made from the milk of Sopravvissana sheep who graze the Abruzzo hills surrounding a village of 300 people. The ricotta is a firmer style that, because it is aged just beyond 60 days, makes it across North American borders in a raw-milk state.

Like most professional cheesemakers, the Marcellis make their traditional ricotta with the whey remaining after they make their pecorinos. Then -here’s the kicker- before they leave the ricotta to mature for two to three months, they smoke it.

Now, before you wrinkle your nose remembering the smoked “goudas” of your yesteryear and write off this dear cheese, consider that smoking cheese is an ancient practice that extends its life and one that is deeply rooted in tradition. Unlike some supermarket goudas that have been doused with artificial smoke flavoring, this cheese has been cold-smoked over juniper wood. The gentle smoking lends the ricotta delicate woodsy flavors that mingle expertly with its sheepy, nutty flavors and slicable texture.

“It’s Not You, it’s Brie” cheese club members will be blessed with some of this ricotta in their May club, but if you’re not in the San Francisco Bay Area and are unable to drop by to pick your club up (must sign up 2 weeks to a month ahead of time), you can pick some up on the Marcelli website.

For cheese plate consumption, serve with a side of toasted walnuts, walnut-wheat bread and small-batch honey. On its own, drizzle with a high-end olive oil and freshly cracked pepper. In a salad, this cheese couldn’t be happier than it is paired with the earthy sweetness of roasted beets, although in summer time, I could imagine it rocking a salad of grilled corn cut from the cob and heirloom tomatoes.

Lastly- just a sneak mention, here are some of my favorite fresh, domestic ricottas (but try all you can, the more local it is, the fresher it is, and fresh ricotta is best consumed young): Bellwether sheep, Bellwether Jersey cow’s milk and Salvatore Brklyn.

“It’s Not You, it’s Brie” readers, do you buy ricotta, or do you make your own? Any local ricottas whose names you’d like to share?

France: Cheese by Wine by Cheese in Photos

Comté aging at Marcel Petite
Comté aging at Marcel Petite

France treats a food and wine lover right.
Of course occasionally there is a hang-up, like when a train that was taking you to a Chinon winery you were aching to visit is cancelled due to country-wide strikes. I like to think of this side of the country as a much-needed practice in letting things go. After all, there will always be an almond croissant, fantastic bottle of Chenin Blanc, or thick wedge of raw-milk cheese waiting to offer you comfort around the corner.
Overall, a trip to France is delicious, and such a trip is especially tasty when you spend part of it with a wine importer like I did. He will take you, and the other wine sellers in the speeding car that he’s driving half-hazardly through the French Alps, to meet the winemakers whose beautiful creations you’ve been selling and enjoying for the past four years.
Once at a winery, the winemakers feed you fantastic regional fare, and delicious, massive amounts of it. As do the other two to three wineries you visit every day. After eating luscious fare like saucisson cooked in cream and white wine, the three men with whom you are traveling also want to go out to eat at hearty bistros. Now is a good time to point out that not everyone looses weight when they visit France like some European diet articles suggest.
After spending time speeding around the Alps on the aforementioned trip, I also visited cheese caves and met wonderful cheese people in France. Of course I ate more too. I also met one person who hated cheese, but because she invited me to visit her in the Loire Valley and made delicious dandelion and bacon salad (see below), baked bread, and fed me her grandmother’s quince jelly and her own jams, I forgave her unfortunate digust (I later questioned my decision when she made me keep my raw-milk cheeses on her balcony with the window closed because of the smell, but I knew I did the right thing later when she introduced me to the French cheese MOF and turned out to be one of the most charmingly sweet people I’ve met). I love France.

And the photo story begins.

Claire's Jams, Loire Valley

The jams that won my heart in the Loire Valley.

Comté Gratin d'Affinois

Comté Gratin d'Affinois served at Domaine de Colette

Comté Herbs

Comté Herbs: When the Comté cows graze in the spring, they snack on the flowers dotting the Franche-Comté hills.

Raw-milk Époisses

Raw-milk Époisses
Vacherin Mont d'Or
Vacherin Mont d’Or
Domaine Pinson Chablis (winemaker on right)

Domaine Pinson Chablis. Left to right, Matt, Mike, Charles Neal (otherwise known as Armagnac Man), and winemaker Laurent Pinson, overlooking his Grand Cru vineyards.

Croissants for breakfast in Montrachet, Burgundy

Croissants for breakfast in Montrachet, Burgundy
Domaine Labet, winemaker in tub

Domaine Labet, winemaker in tub with sparkling cremant in Jura.

Guinet-Roundeau Bugey Cerdon

Guinet-Roundeau Bugey Cerdon

Dandelion & Lardon Salad
The young dandelion green salad with lardons and dijon vinaigrette that made me love someone who hates cheese.

Cheese plate at Domaine de Colette, Beaujolais

A typical cheese of the Beaujolais region, made from the mixed milks of cows and goats, at Domaine de Colette

Cherry custart tart, Domaine Quenard, Savoie
Cherry custard tart, Domaine Quenard, Savoie