Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Sheepish Goodness - Pecorino Perfection at the Cheese School

On the walls of the Cheese School of San Francisco hang a number of large, framed, black and white photographs that relate to the cheese making process. One of my favorites has always been one titled “Lactating Ladies”– a group of Sardinian sheep ("Pecora Sarda") taken at a farm named Il Casale just outside Pienza in the Toscana region of Italy, about 50 miles southeast of Florence.

Last night Alex, Cass and I were back at the Cheese School, this time for a program entitled “Pecorino Perfection” given by Wil Edwards. Wil is one of the most recognized figures in the cheese world in Northern California, and also the photographer who took the photos at the Cheese School – and also a most entertaining speaker!

Wil amusing Alex and Cass with an explanation of proper sheep milking grip

Since sheep milk cheese is my favorite of all cheeses, I was particularly looking forward to last night’s program (“pecora” means “a sheep” in Italian, and “pecorino” is the generic word for cheeses made with sheep milk):

“Sheep, or ‘pecore’ in Italian, produce remarkably rich milk higher in fat content than other milk types. That alone makes cheese made from precious sheep milk incredibly easy to love. But in the hands of Italian cheesemakers and their colorful history, sheep milk cheeses can be truly palette pampering. In this class we’ll taste luscious, creamy sheep’s milk selections from all around Italy, covering the gamut from classic Dolomite mountain cheeses, to aged Tuscan gems, to Sicilian and Sardinian rarities.”

Wil is now working with the famous family-owned (now in the 5th generation) Italian cheese-aging firm (“affinatore” – the Italian version of the French “affineur”) named Guffanti to help promote the many types of cheeses produced throughout Italy that Guffanti coaxes to a perfect state of ripeness in their caves in Northern Italy (they have an excellent website with a great deal of information about their cheeses). The firm was founded in 1876 by Luigi Guffanti (the company’s formal name is Luigi Guffanti 1876 s.r.l.) and is headquartered is in the Piemontese city of Arona in the province of Novara on the shores of Lake Maggiore.

We enjoyed the following 10 cheeses from Guffanti accompanied by a 2005 Gavi Principessa Perlant by Banfi, a slightly sparkling white wine from the Piemonte (100% Cortese), and a 2006 Valpolicella Bonacosta by Masi, a young red from the Veneto (70% Corvina, 25% Rondinella, 5% Molinara):

1. Ricotta Moliterna – Sardegna

2. Ricotta Salata [“salted”] di Pecora “Sicilia” - Sicilia

3. Pecorino Monti Sibillini Latte Crudo [“raw milk”] – Abruzzo

4. Pecorino del Monti della Laga Stagionato [“aged”] – Le Marche

5. Pecorino di Pienza Stagionato – Toscana

6. Pecorino Foglie Noci [“walnut leaves”] – Toscana

7. Pecora Siciliano Stagionato Pepato in Crosta [“with a pepper crust”] – Sicilia

8. Piacentinu [from the Italian “piacere” = “to be pleasing”] di Enna – Sicilia

9. Ricotta Affumicata [“smoked”] Calabra – Calabria

10. Erborinato [“with herbs”] di Pecora – Tretino-Alto Adige

We tasted a number of the in pairs to contrast their flavors cheeses (1 and 2 (both ricottas), 3 and 4 (produced 80 miles apart in an area of mountainous national parks - Parco Nazionale dei Monti Sibillini and Parco Nazionale del Gran Sasso e Monti della Laga), and 5 and 6 (both from the Pienza area of Toscana)). The cheeses were all interesting, and, as you can see from the map, were produced all over Italy.

Alex, Cass and I agreed that our favorites of the evening were the Pecorino Monti Sibillini Latte Crudo from the Sibillini Mountains and the Pecorino di Pienza Stagionato (perhaps produced by the very sheep in the above photo!). Nancy and I had visited Pienza on a trip to Italy in 2006. It is a beautiful hilltop town - see photo below - in the Val d'Orcia between the famous wine towns of Montalcino (Brunello) and Montepulciano (Vino Nobile).

Among the other cheeses of the evening two others stood out - the Piacentinu di Enna for its use of saffron (which helps account for its more vivid yellow color) and the Ricotta Affumicata Calabra for its intense smoky flavor. The Erborinato di Pecora is a blue cheese and quite good, although the one we sampled last night was a bit too salty for my taste.

Wil also talked a bit about the annual cheese festival (
Cheese, La Forme del Latte) held every September in the city of Bra in the Piemonte organized by Slow Food. Wil will be leading a small group to the Festival this September (hmmm, what’s on my calendar for September??). Also on the cheese program front, Lynne Devereux – another instructor at the Cheese School – was in the audience last night and made some comments about the 3rd annual Artisan Cheese Festival which will be held in Petaluma in March and which Lynn is helping to organize. We already have signed up!

Wil thanking Ariel Clute and Arielle Segal of the Cheese School for their help during the evening

1 comment:

Andrew said...

Wait... Lactating ladies? The City of Bra? What kind of blog is this?

The Artisan Cheese Festival looks like a lot of fun. Apparently they've doubled the size of the main tent. More folks, you figure, or expanding waistlines?