Once Upon a Young Sheep’s Milk

Last weekend marked a big event in the celebration of Memere’s 85th celebration with family from all over the states. And what more fitting for the evening after lunch picnic than red, white blends, and cheese platters from PCC guhhhhh. I had a ball of a time eating crystalline allium-flavored Rembrandt gouda (aged gouda is rapidly rising in my esteem), chivey and malleable Cotswald, sweet violetted Beecher’s Flagship, and most exciting of all: Pecorino di Pienza. A sheep’s milk cheese from Siena, it can be eaten anywhere from 40 days to 18 months. The one I ate was soft, light, and oily aka young aka at least 60 days aged because hello I live in the US. There was another cheese on the plate called Drunken Goat but all my relatives thought that the pecorino was the Drunken Goat because of the strong, fuzzy nose that tickles the tongue and throat so devilishly in the pecorino aka Drunken Goat sounds like it would be real funky but uhhh let down. In any case, the Pecorino had a slightly more aged exterior (duhh rind) that had calmer, sharper notes than the interior. The soft sofa of an interior was milky white, acutely sheepy, bitingly fuzzy, and had a most curious lingering taste of rhubarb bitter. I think/hope that this pecorino was raw milk because the palate was so diverse and I want to think that I tasted those green italian pastures. At least for 3 minutes, I was walking on hillsides in Siena, holding crumbly soil in my fingers, milking italian sheep, and experiencing milk being coaxed into this higher form.

Crottin stateside

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Earthy and umami: Quail Croft crottin (say that 10 times fast!)

Sometimes you get real excited seeing a cheese at a market and then you buy the cheese and it feels as hard as the ash-covered/rhomboidal exterior suggests and you say “I hope this cheese was accidently frozen even though I really don’t want it to be frozen” and then you unpackage it and let it breathe for a couple of hours and then it’s the moment of truth and you cut it open and it separates beautifully and you detect a heady waft and have the littlest of slivers and just like that all is well. This was my experience this morning, as I stumbled upon a french-style crottin at the stand of Quail Croft Farms during a visit to the Friday Harbor farmer’s market with the gamins from camp. Our mission was to buy some chèvre for a tartine dish tomorrow, and we came home with garlic-basil fresh chèvre and an enigmatic lump o’ crottin, per left photo.

The granite-like, blue/grey/brown exterior poses a challenge to comprehending the enigma inside. The pâte is very consistent throughout, showing and even ripening and just the slimmest of oxidized surroundings. The first wedge nibble made the phrase “threateningly dry velvet” come into my mind, and I think that is a good description of the initial texture. Mushing the morsel around in my mouth yielded a salty, granular paste. Then came tastes of roasted root vegetable or chestnuts, moqc crottin slicesstly in the form of a peculiar mild sweetness that fluxxed from bitingly tart on the front of the tongue to a crumbly blue sour salt feeling in the back. While tasting I had an undescribable flavor on the tip of my tongue that escaped identification until I pegged it as the weird flavor combination that comes when you spread margarine and syrup (the fake corn syrup kind) on a eggo waffle and some of the margarine gets on top of the syrup and it turns into this funky savory weirdness. I thought that this was a common childhood experience but none of my fellow tasters empathized with me hmmmm. In essence, the Quail Croft crottin is a complex piece of aged dairy that exudes wiseness and escapes cliché.

Also something decadent and head-emptyingly wonderful: camembert au four! Aka a round of camembert put in the oven for 30 minutes ish at 350 F ish (essentially until hot and melty) and removed and top croute cut off and hunks of bread dipped in the molten pool of satiny surface-ripened cheese. Perfect for camping trips and camp counselors on 36-hour vacations on Orcas Island. Just perfect.

camembert au four

not-so-poor man’s simple cheese course