It’s berry picking season, and that means one thing: cheese and fresh fruit for dinner. I love nothing more than loading up on cherries, strawberries, blueberries, or blackberries and setting out a cheese board to match. Add a plate of smoked fish, a light salad, some white wine, and you’ve got a glorious feast. No fuss. No hot oven.
People are always asking you questions, so you have to learn stuff constantly. For example, when I started I didn’t know about vegetarian rennet [a coagulant used in cheesemaking], but customers would come to the counter and ask for “vegetarian cheese.” Now I know to point them toward Portuguese cheeses, like La Serena, Gardunha, and Azeitao. They’re all made with rennet from cardoons, which are like thistles.
Until I really got into cheese a few years ago, I never considered eating a hunk of the hard stuff, like Parm or Pecorino, unless it was grated. Now I know better. Some of the tastiest cheeses are relegated to “accents” in part because they have so much flavor. Eat them just as they are, without starches or sauces, and you’ll be surprised how delicious they are.
On the first sticky day of summer, I walked down to Philadelphia’s Italian Market in search of something cool, and I came home with burrata. Cheese and humidity don’t always mix, but then, burrata isn’t ordinary cheese. It’s a fresh mozzarella compress wrapped around a scoop of glorious cream and bound together with leeks.
Back in April, a friend gave me a bag of lemons from her family tree in Florida, and their bright floral bite sent me on a citrus binge. That’s how I came to Pantaleo, a firm Sardinian goat cheese that smells like lemon yogurt and tastes – in its youth – as delicate as the Madaleines that sent Proust into literary reverie.
If you’re the kind of person who likes to traffic in obscure cheese, you’ll want to add Paški Sir to your list. It looks like an aged Parm with a thick, honey-colored rind and flecks of protein crystals, but the smell and taste are nuttier and brighter, with hints of melon, spruce, and citrus.
Most people who enter into a relationship with sheep’s cheese expect a robust, salty hunk – think of your Pecorinos from Sardinia, your Manchegos from La Mancha. These hard, earthy cheeses can be addictive, but they often require a sweet sidekick, like honey or quince paste, to offset their briny temperaments.