La Dama Sagrada, the Franco Regime & Spain’s Cheesy Comeback

Spain has long been celebrated on the cheese board for its sheep’s milk Manchegos, marcona almonds, and its sycamore leaf-wrapped Valdeon. The tiny prodcution Dama Sagrada, howeverjust hit California around 2 years ago.

Arriving late to the cheese party isn’t unusual for an artisan Spanish cheese.

French’s fromage has more love letters written to it than Catherine Deneuve. Parmesan graces more fridges than the number of well-dressed men leaning against espresso counters in Italy.

And Spanish cheese? Well? There’s The Telling Room (4 to 5 stars), then… blanks. No TV shows about the goats that pounce the hills of Catalan who provide the milk for Garrotxa cheese. No musical break-out hits declaring eternal love for the thistle-rennet queso of Extremadura.

The reason why reads like a movie script.

During the Franco Regime from 1939-1978, artisan cheesemaking was banned. If you couldn’t make top-selling Manchego or didn’t have an industrial creamery that would, in Franco’s view, drag Spain into modernization, you weren’t allowed to make cheese. This meant that if you crafted tiny wheels from ancient or family recipes, you were torn from your calling. Some cheesemaking families went underground, but more stopped making cheese altogether. Many recipes were lost.

After Franco’s death in 1975, Spain’s revival, and the cheesemaking revamp was slow. There was little support for Spain’s countrymen or its producers. Luckily the industry slowly regained its footing.

And ten or so years ago, Spanish artisan cheese once again started stealing hearts. La Dama Sagrada cheese is one that’s won mine.

The Sacred Lady, otherwise known as Buy it When You Can, is made in La Mancha. It is robust, spicy, sweet when young, and peppery with age (or if you loose it in your fridge for a month, ahem…). Made with goat’s milk in Manchego territory, La Dama Sagrada would have been impossible to sell abroad during Francoist Spain because it would have drawn attention away from the wheels that earned the country $$$, like Manchego.

In fact, La Dama Sagrada cheese is small production (I got mine through Food Matters Again distributors in Berkeley Via Forever Cheese) that if you spot a wedge of one, it’s like sighting a Spanish cheese unicorn- a sign of good luck.

 

Dama Sagrada cheese with honeycomb

This goat’s milk wheel is worthy of a cheese board or being shaved over summer’s salads or grilled red peppers or peaches. Try with honey, honeycomb, or if thinking wine, pair with something equally peppery and bright like a Garnacha or Verdejo.

Il Canet: Introducing the Funk with Alta Langa Washed-rind

Though cheesemongers might hold “stinky or bust” signs while behind the counter, and some turophiles feel unless they open their fridge and a gust of cheese wind rushes out that’s so fierce it knocks them over, the dairy object inside doesn’t really count as cheese, washed-rinds are not for everyone. In the beginning anyhow.

I know because my boyfriend sticks the strong ones I bring to his house in tupperware containers even after I’ve wrapped them in wax paper, and when tasting a new stinker at the farmers market, can appear as shocked as a child handed a lemon slice to taste for the first time. My mother on the other hand, would douse herself in Limburger if she could.

But I have hope for the non-washed inclined inclined and so should you. If you want to encourage a loved one or yourself to go for the funk, start with delicate, starter washed-rinds like goat and cow’s milk Il Canet from Alta Langa in Piemdont, Italy. 

 

What is a washed-rind cheese?

The beautiful Durrus washed-rind aging, not for the faint of heart, from Cork Ireland.

A washed rind cheese is rubbed down with a brine as it ages. The brine is often a combo of water and salt, and often a splash of booze like whiskey or beer. Il Canet’s brine is a combo of water, salt, and annatto (more on A later).

“Washing,” rubbing the rind with brine as the cheese matures, encourages the growth of tasty bacteria like B. linens bacteria. As B. linens break down the cheese’s proteins, they turn the rind orange, the smell funky, and the inside very, very sweet.

Legend has it that a Benediction monk created washed rinds back in the day when he rubbed a monastery cheese he was making with some nearby monastery liquor because he thought it would help heal cracks that formed on the rind. It worked.

Alta Langa’s Il Canet (the cane)

Il Canet is a subtle washed-rind. Its tangerine color is partially from the salt-water washing, but also because orange-hued annatto powder is added to the brine. From the achiote plant, annatto is the same natural coloring that’s used to make some Wisconsin farmhouse cheddars like Roelli’s Dunbarton’s Red Rock orange. In Il Canet’s case, the annatto makes the rind look like a cheeto even though it hasn’t been washed as much as the really funky ones. Because fewer B. linens are busy working its rind, the flavor is more gentle, than, say, Époisses.

The result is a wheel that melts on your tongue and tastes like fresh, salted cream drizzled with meyer lemon. With a touch of funk. And its damn cute on a cheese plate. Did I mention Il Canet is made from both goat and cow’s milk cheese in Piedmont Italy? Mmmmm….. A perfect starter for soon-to-be stinky cheese lovers. If you want it funkier, keep it longer 🙂

Other gentle washed-rinds to try are Mouco, Red Hawk and Willoughby (when young), and Quadrello-di-Bufala

 

Il Canet Wine Pairing:

Alsatian Rieslings, dry Gewurztraminers, Muscadets (Melon de Bourgogne not Muscat) from the Loire, Fiano de Avellinos, or non-citrusy, steely whites!

Nettle Meadow’s Sappy Ewe: A cheesemaker, curds and maple syrup walk into a bar…

Though Sappy Ewe might sound like the punchline of a foodie joke, its real, new, and surprisingly delicious.

Sappy Ewe is Nettle Meadow’s newest cheese.

The first time I heard about the savory-sweet Sappy Ewe was when rustling through a box of samples at Cheese & Sundry, a new cheese and tasty-things distributing company in Berkeley. My friend Emiliano and I were hanging out in their walk-in fridge (about the size of Mariah Carey’s closet) when he introduced me to the cheese. I had just eyed the 80-pound wheel of Rodolphe le Meunier’s Comté and decided it was too big to stash in my coat and run when Emi picked up the tiny Nettle Meadow wheel. Distracted by the 80-pound cheese, I only heard maple syrup, sheep and cow, and Nettle Meadow.

“Do you want to try it?”

I raised my eyebrows at him and nodded.

Going back to the post title. What happens when a cheesemaker, curds, and maple syrup walk into a bar? If you guessed a spiked cheese-curd pancake party, you might not be wrong depending on the day. But in this case, a gorgeous regional cheese. 

 

Nettle Meadow takes sheep and cow’s milk cheese curds (the curds of milk that’s been firmed to a thick-custard texture) and drizzles them with maple syrup from Adirondack mountains. Then they fill the curds into crottin-style molds to age. The cheese has a brie-like, bloomy rind that before shipping out, they dust with ash from local black pine trees. It’s a New York cheese all the way.

The result is a rich, small sliceable cheese that tastes like brown butter, fresh hazelnuts, and maple ham that knocks the idea out of the water that cheese is always better left alone. Though the list of ingredients might give the impression of sweetness, Sappy Ewe is mellow, subtle, and fit for a cheese plate before or after dinner. 

Wine: Before dinner, pair with a yeasty Champagne or rich Viognier. After, pair with something tawny, spicy and sweet like a sweet sherry or vin santo

 

After dinner? Amazing with chocolate. Tazo’s stone ground vanilla-bean chocolate offered a crunchy bite to the silky cheese.

May & June Public Cheese Classes and Pairings Up!

Spring Classes & Events 

Proving it’s possible we live in California not Ireland, May brings us two weeks of spring without rain! And strawberries and asparagus. It’s a festivus of ruby and emerald hues out there, with vegetables that need just a quick searing before eating. Spring also brings ample fresh milk from local animals grazing lush fields. With lushness in mind, May and June is packed with cheese classes.

June is for those of you asking me to teach another Camembert class

Maybe you’ve refined your fluffy ricotta and want to go a touch bolder, or make cheese for spring salads. Feta’s your girl. Maybe you’re crazy about rich cheeses and want to raise a babe to maturity over weeks. Camembert is your buttery wheel. Or maybe you just want to make cheese from pure cream. Meet unabashed mascarpone. Or perhaps you’d like to serve party cheese & wine with budgetary moderation.

May and June public classes follow. As always, classes fill up fast, consider reserving your spot early. If interested in a private class for your friends, party, or employees, please email me at [email protected]!

Hope to see you around!

 

 

 

May & June Public Events and Classes 

 

Ridge Montebello Collector Tasting

May 13-14th, Santa Cruz, Ridge Montebello

Join us for our 16th annual Component Tasting on March 11th & 12th. This event is an exclusive opportunity for Monte Bello Collector Members to participate firsthand in the assemblage process and taste barrel samples of the separate varietal components for the 2016 vintage of Monte Bello. [I pair the cheese, tell the creamery’s stories, and talk cheese at the event].

 

Kermit Lynch Spring Wine Release 

May 19th, Friday, 6:30-8:30pm, Berkeley, Julia Morgan Room

In the stunning setting of Julia Morgan Hall in the UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley, taste spring selections, new arrivals, and a few very special bottlings from our French and Italian portfolios. (I’ll be catering, pairing, and talking cheese)

 

Mozzarella & Burrata Making

May 21st, Sunday, 11:00-2pm, San Francisco, The Cheese School

Mozzarella on nearly every aspiring home-cheesemaker’s to-do list. Yet, it’s not easy to get it right. Why won’t your curds form a ball? When you do get the ball to form, why is it hard enough for a game of hacky-sack? These are the mysteries of mozzarella. In this class, your instructor, who is also a cheesemaker, will not only demystify the mozz,….

 

Entertaining on a Budget: Cheese & Wine Pairing

June 7th, Tuesday, 6-8:00pm, San Francisco, 18 Reasons

Always the stars of a dinner party but often admonished for their price tag, great cheese and wine can get a bad rap for thinning the wallets of their adoring hosts. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Cheese-and-wine party thrower and cheese and wine expert, It’s Not You, It’s Brie book author Kirstin Jackson will prove that you don’t have to leave your favorites behind to throw a budget-friendly bash. 

 

Basic Cheesemaking: Feta, Mascarpone, and Ricotta

June 18th, Sunday 11-2pm, San Francisco, The Cheese School

Ricotta, mascarpone, and feta are the cheeses that make appetizers and main courses sing. In this hands-on class, cheesemaker Kirstin Jackson will teach you how to make the cheeses that will become staples in your fridge for many more meals to come. You’ll try your creations in class and bring some home to share, or not. 

 

 Feta & Summer Recipes

June 21st, Thursday 6-9:30pm, San Francisco, 18 Reasons

Feta is not only one of the most highly consumed and adored cheeses in the world, it also loves spring and summer seasonal dishes as much as you do!  In this action-packed evening class, you will learn the basics of cheesemaking, including which milk to use and where to find rennet, talk feta lore, taste perfect examples, and make your own feta from scratch. Then you’ll master two party-friendly feta recipes perfect for the season, and leave with cheese to brine or marinate at home.

 

Camembert Cheesemaking

June 25th, Sunday 11-2pm, San Francisco, The Cheese School

Your ovalini are moist and perfectly round. Your chevre is fluffy and tangy. Now you’re ready for your next challenge: Camembert. In this class, you’ll learn how to make the French classic (with a twist) from author Kirstin Jackson. Kirstin will lead you in inoculating fresh milk, recognizing when the curd has set, then layering the curd in the form…..

Hope to see you around!

 

Some Like it Hot: Triple Creme Cheese Laughs at “Mild”

Heat, heat, and jellies. Triple creme at your service.

As Marilyn Monroe demonstrated in a plunging neckline and a shimmy, some like it hot. Triple cremes do too.

Triple creme cheese loves heat.

While it’s long been thought that the ideal pairing for a cheese as seemingly rich as cultured butter is Champagne, triple creme cheese has broad pairing abilities. Cloaked in a white bloomy-rind jacket with a creamy paste, triples are friendly. Open. Undiscriminating in pairing sessions. They like to play with others.

They snuggle up to what others fear being sat next to on a cheese plate.

Bring on the pepper jellies and spice.

 

Triple creme and jelly

If you’re someone that laughs when someone asks you if you want your curry “mild,” this is your pairing.

What is a triple creme?  Some might say heaven. Others might say delicious. Both are correct. More specifically…

 

 

A triple creme is a cheese whose butterfat content is 75%. Never fear, this is the percentage of fat in dry matter, meaning that because triples are so young and full of whey, which the FDA doesn’t measure, the butterfat is actually lower than it sounds. Read more here.

Because it’s so soft and creamy and rich, the butterfat in a triple creme wraps itself around piquant flavors, soothing any abrasive notes, and snuggles up to heat like a toddler does a blankie.

You know what cheese doesn’t do this? A blue cheese. Fair warning.

As the butterfat assuages the spiciness, it is also highlights other nuances in what it’s paired with. Blackberry and pepper? Expect a light berrylicious hit. Classic pepper jelly? You’re about to marry chile to sugar to butter. Mostarda? Brace yourself.

 

 

I adore triples and sparkling or triples and a Belgian double. But when I want to try something different, I remember that some like it hot.

The beautiful triple featured above is Ragged Point from Stepladder Creamery, a new California dairy that’s already captured my heart. Never becoming oozy, It turns more buttery and sweet with age. Some of my favorite spicy picks paired with this triple are below! In no particular order.

 

 

Pepper Jellies & Spice

 

Mousquetaire Black Cherry & Espelette JamA classic pairing for the region’s Basque sheep’s milk wheel, I like to drizzle a bit of this back cherry and pepper jam over my favorite butterbombs.

 

Bonnie’s Jams Red Pepper Jelly: Clean and classic. If you like it super hot, try their blackberry pepper jelly- but pair lightly, it goes far (a dollop was bit too strong for my mild tastebuds). My favorite Bonnie’s is their tried and true southern staple, red pepper jelly. Beautiful. Side note- their Raspberry Lime Rickey was amazing with Ragged Point.

Grace & I Chipotle Carrots & Ghost Pepper Jelly: Brined carrots with heat. Layer textures by adding a crunch to your creamy cheese. Ghost Pepper Jelly is great, and… as hot as it sounds.

 

Mostarda MediterraneaItalian candied fruit plus mustard oil creates a fierce pairing happily countered with a triple or cheddar. Serve with ciabatta or a rustic baguette.

 

KL Keller Basque Pepper Honey: As evidenced with this and the first pick, the Basque region can take a little heat. Wonderful with cheese that tastes like butter, and also good in a grilled cheese sandwich.

 

 

Thank you for the samples, Bonnie’s Jams!

Achadinha Creamery Tour: Visiting Sonoma’s Makers on the Cheese Trail

Achadinha’s Broncha

Three weeks ago I was part of a Wine & Cheese Tour for the California Artisan Cheese Festival, called Perfect Pairings. Combining visits to wineries and farmstead creameries, it was my kind of a day. Possibly the only more perfect combo could have been Ryan Gosling and Eva Mendes, or, peanut butter and chocolate (but at least one of these duos was likely too busy getting ready for the Golden Globes to show).

A calf staying dry in the Sonoma rain

I led the wine and cheese pairing class but first snuck into the tour to Achadinha. I’ve long had my eye on this creamery. Their bold Capricious was one of the “Strong & Hards” in my book, so I got to play around with them around their cheese vat one day when seeing how it was made, but hadn’t had a chance to visit since (when you teach cheesemaking classes, you have less time to visit actual cheesemakers).

I write about cheese so I often get insiders tours where we get to visit the animals and sample cheese both so we can better understand the creamery’s story where others might only get to nibble. Like Tomales Farmstead Creamery in Marin, Achadinha does it all no matter who you are. If you make an appointment for the right day, you get a peek in the creamery, taste cheese, visit the ladies, and best of all, hear Achadinha’s history from Donna Pacheco. The mother of the current cheesemakers (her two sons), Donna started the creamery, which is important. But also important is that she’s hilarious. I won’t spoil any jokes though.

Cheesemaker Donna holding her Capricious, a spicy hard goat’s milk cheese beautiful shaved over grilled asparagus or drizzled with honey

Check it out. As for what I paired with the creamery’s cheese? A little juice from one of my favorite winemakers.

Achadinha’s Broncha – an aged goat and cow’s milk wheel- & Massican’s Annia ribolla gialla, tocai friulano and chardonnay blend from Napa. Northern California, you’re the best.

 

If feeling like elongating your windy drive through the green Sonoma hills, check out more creameries to visit on the California Cheese Trail map.