Come in and Stay Safe! --Sue

Saturday, July 31, 2010

A letter from Italy: Pecorino Canestrato di Castel del Monte

I have a beautiful daughter, Charlotte, who is an opera singer.  Last year, she spent a lot of time singing in Italy, and this year she went back to actually enjoy the country.  She has written to me about her visit to a Pecorino cheesemaker in Puglia.

Charlotte is a very accomplished young woman, and has done things that most of us will never do; she graduated from Exeter, Yale, Juilliard, and the Curtis Institute.  She won the Sudler Prize at Yale.  She speaks five languages.  She makes perfect Hollandaise sauce. 

But now she's a cheese blogger, too!   Check out her commentary and great photos.  --Sue

Dear Mom, 

I went to visit a cool cheesemaker here in the Italian countryside and took a bunch of photos for you.  His name was Zurap, and he works making pecorino and sheep ricotta in a town called Castel del Monte.  The sheep graze in places that look like this:

The land is really rocky here, but I think centuries of sheep grazing has made the topsoil a lot deeper than it would be otherwise.  There's an amazing diversity of grasses, wildflowers, butterflies and other insects living in these mountains.  It's also a blessing that the people here traditionally live together in little crowded medieval towns - the surrounding countryside is completely untouched and unpolluted.

Before he made the cheese  he showed us the fridge where everything was aging.  Lots of pecorinos. The little ones age for 3-6 months, the big wheels for 2 years, since it takes longer for them to age all the way through.

Not sure what the deal is with these guys.

The little sign below these ones says "non buone" which means "not yummy".

The lighter ones are very young.

This is the "vasca" i.e. tub which heats the milk.  The things sticking into the milk were rotating paddles to stir it so it heats evenly.  Probably the same type of equipment they use in the states?

When it got to a certain temperature, he poured in a bucket of milk that was of a higher acidity - he was talking in Italian, so I couldn't understand everything.  But I think this milk was from a few days ago so it had a different PH.  This is a flavor thing, apparently. 

When it got to 38 degrees Celsius, he put in the enzyme stuff (I forget what it's called in English!) and then put in these paddles while we waited for it to curdle.  You can see in this photo the surface starting to harden a bit.
After the layer of curds got a few inches thick, he started the machine to cut up the curds.

Then he piped it into the molds.

He squooshed the whey out by hand once with the cheese still in the molds.  He let me help him with this!  Then we dumped the cheeses out of the molds, reshaped them a little bit, and put them in upside-down with a label on the top.  Then a little more pressing - not too hard, or it makes the consistency of the cheese too hard.

That's as much of the process as I saw.  The new cheeses sit around for a couple of days, and then there is another process to add salt to them, which I didn't see and didn't understand his explanation of.  I think they might soak them in some kind of salty whey or something like that.  But I really don't know.  ;)
There are lots of cool dogs here, including a whole bunch of adorable tiny puppies.



Note:  more from the official Puglia site:  
The name of this cheese comes from the cane baskets, the so-called fiscelle, in which it is left to mature. The rind is yellow brown in colour, it is strong and thick and can be wrinkly or smooth; the paste is pale yellow in colour, darker when mature; at the last stage of the process, it is cured in extra-virgin olive oil.

Its flavour is distinctively spicy and quite sharp when mature, while it is milder when fresh. Sea salt from the saltworks of Margherita di Savoia is used for the essential salting process. The paste is thick, quite crumbly, moderately melting, poorly elastic, with barely visible fat holes. The kid rennet which gives it its distinctive flavour is dried and stored in dried orange and lemon rinds and nettle leaves.

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