25 March 2012

Raw, organic, farmstead, and from New England

We tried a delightful New England-area cow's milk cheese the other night called Prescott at Central Kitchen, a New American restaurant in Cambridge, MA.

Two ample wedges of this semi-hard, organic, raw cow's milk cheese, aged over 8 months, were served as an appetizer, along with several hard french-style bread pieces and a sweet berry relish. The cheese itself is quite tasty, with a hint of salt, a little nuttiness, and a very smooth mouth-feel. It is a mild cheese, perhaps reminiscent of a mild gruyere-cheddar cross, with a little less of that characteristic gruyere sweetness.

Prescott is one of a number of artisanal cheeses made at Robinson Farm, a family owned and operated organic dairy farm in Hardwick, MA. Hardwick is a town in central Massachusetts, about equidistant between Worcester and Northampton. The farm offers at least 3 other wash-rind, raw milk cheeses, all of which won awards recently at the Cheeses of New England competition of the 2011 Big E. (The Big E is the largest annual fair in the Northeast).

The picture (above right) is borrowed from a fantastic photographic tutorial of cheese making at the Robinson farm, courtesy of a post last year from the the New England Cheesemaking Supply company.

We'd highly recommend trying some of these. You can buy Prescott and the other cheeses from the Robinson farm directly, apparently with a minimum of 2 pound purchase (@ whole sale prices). This may be your best bet if you are outside of the New England area. Get a bunch of friends to go in with you! If you're within greater Boston or around New England, a better bet may be to find Robinson Farm cheeses at one of these locations.

Until next time...

15 March 2012

Manchego: From the Sheep of La Mancha

Fromage-du-mois friends may remember an early post on this site, in 2006, about Manchego. For those who missed it, I thought I'd re-introduce this simple staple of the cheese world.

Many people have probably heard of and/or tried Manchego (Queso Manchego, officially). If you haven't, I would encourage you to give it a shot.

Manchego is a very nice, 'nutty'-flavored, Spanish sheep's milk cheese. It is still Spain's "most popular cheese" and it remains name-controlled: it must be made in its region of origin to be called (Queso) Manchego.

Manchego hails from the expansive, sometimes barren region of 'inner Spain' called Castile-La Mancha (the link is from El Sol Villas, which offers vacation villas throghout Europe). Apparently, the expansive plains of La Mancha are subjected to a climate of seasonal extremes, often pummeled with unrelenting winds and broad sweeps in temperatures throughout the year (read: Don Quixote and his windmill travails). The thick-fleeced sheep of La Mancha, who provide the milk for this ubiquitous fromage, are some of the only animals able to withstand this climate.

Manchego is usually quite mild, a little bit briny, and tastes like it is "of the earth", if that makes any sense. And the common description of it being "nutty" I think is especially accurate. Like many cheeses, it becomes more acrid and tangy when it is aged.

The seal (above) is Queso Manchego's official Protested Designation of Origin (PDO) Seal, certified by the European Union. It can be placed only on Manchego cheese wheels when they are produced from the milk of La Mancha's sheep, and, aged for at least 60 days.

Literature fans will note that the seal includes a silhouette of the famous "Don Quixote" on his horse, and---I believe--a second, rider-less horse by his side (or.....does anyone see Sancho Panza on the second horse?).