Goat, sheep, and water buffalo: time to get daring with your cheese. —INGRAIN, Summer 2019
STORY / Cara Condon
One of my favorite things in the whole world is the smell of freshly cut grass. With their clean flavors, these cheeses are as close as you can get to eating grass—without being a weirdo grass-eating person.
“Two weeks ago, this cheese was grass.” That’s how we actually often described fresh chèvre when I worked at a cheese shop. I think it caught many people off guard—that something that had already made it into the shop was completely inedible (unless you actually do eat grass) and unrecognizable only two weeks prior. Talk about a glow-up!
When I go to a brewery, I usually order something simple to start so that I can get a read on the quality of the beer. The same approach works with fresh cheese. With little to no aging, the quality of the milk is the star of the show, as there are few techniques and treatments to hide behind.
Not surprisingly, each milk type—cow, sheep, goat, water buffalo—has a totally unique flavor profile. Cow’s milk brings more grassy and buttery flavors to the game. Goat’s milk is typically tangy and yogurt-y (but most importantly should never remind you of a dirty farm). Sheep’s milk has a high solid (protein) and fat content, so it’s super rich and a little sweet (when the cheesemaker separates the curds and whey, there isn’t a lot of whey, the watery bullshit). Buffalo’s milk, common in Italy and other regions where water buffalo are prevalent, is basically liquid cheese (in the best way) and even richer than sheep’s milk but with a mildness.
Like that cheese-shop chèvre, pretty much all fresh cheeses have a very short life span. From the time the animal is milked to the time the cheese is made and is ready to be eaten is usually only a few days. And since these cheeses are itching to party right away, you also want to eat them as soon as possible. Especially within this family of cheeses, the most local option is usually best. If that isn’t available, look for a good-quality national brand. (BelGioioso makes some pretty decent fresh cheeses.)
Since the flavor profile is fairly straightforward, fresh cheeses are really fun to shake up with crazy pairings. Highlight their simplicity with other unadorned but beautiful ingredients. That local single-varietal honey from the farmers’ market? Bingo. The cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil you brought back from Italy? You bet. First-of-the-season strawberries? I think you get the picture. Or go wild! Give a show stopping ingredient or dish a nice, milky backdrop. The spicy pepper jelly your aunt canned last summer, or... honestly, I cannot think of a single thing that packs a flavor punch that would not work with the right fresh cheese.
A COTTAGE CHEESE AFFAIR
Okay, let me tell you how much I love cottage cheese. I always have it in my fridge. When I’m starving after work and can’t figure out what to make for dinner, I have a few spoonfuls of cottage cheese so I can think clearly and start cooking. When I come home late at night, it’s there for me to scoop up with chips. I plop it in salads, bake it into pasta, stir it into scrambled eggs. I mix cottage cheese together with an avocado to top my toast. When I’m craving caprese salads but don’t have fresh mozzarella, I fake my way through it with cottage cheese. Sunshine-warmed tomatoes off the vine, a couple cracks of fresh pepper, a pinch of salt, and a drizzle of olive oil—all sopped up with hearty bread. Now, tell me that ain't the life! Lately, cheesemakers and good cheese shops are also taking cottage cheese more seriously, and, obviously, I couldn’t be more thrilled.
A FEW OF OUR FAVORITES
A standard, and for a good reason. Play around with milk types with this one. Cow’s milk mozzarella is easy to find, but if you can dig up a buffalo’s milk version, definitely give that a try. Always select a fresh mozzarella that is sold in brine, not the shrink-wrapped kind. There are a number of national brands, but, again, opt for the local option whenever possible (if you’ve got an Eataly nearby, they make their own mozzarella and burrata). Don’t snooze; once you buy the cheese, make sure to eat it within a few days.
Point Reyes Station, California
Have I mentioned that I LOVE COTTAGE CHEESE? Right. The standout is the clabbered cream from Cowgirl Creamery in California, but keep your eyes peeled for more producers to follow suit. If your local cheese shop doesn’t carry individual tubs, trust me on this one: It’s so worth it to pony up for the 6-pack online.
$50 for six 12-ounce containers
Everyone is familiar with fresh chèvre, which to a cheesemonger is a great thing! So now that you are comfortable trying fresh goat’s milk cheeses, I want you to try a fresh sheep’s milk cheese. Spread Driftless over some toast with a little honey for the perfect breakfast. Bonus: The cheese comes in a ton of interesting flavors, so you’ll never get tired of it. The trick is finding it; ask your local cheese shop or check with the creamery for nearby retail locations.
5 ounces, price varies
This is a tricky one to track down. But if you find stracciatella (again, Eataly is a good place to look), stop what you are doing and change all your plans and taste it immediately! Stracciatella is the magical center of a ball of burrata, the torn mozzarella shreds that are tossed in heavy cream. Scoop it up with bread, eat it with a spoon—pure heaven.