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Aaron N. Tubbs

Dragon chaser.

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My mom and dad sent me a box of cheese from Zingerman’s for my birthday, which was really awesome of them!

First up was a Piave. Described by Zingerman’s:

This is a rarely tasted traditional cheese made high in the mountains of northern Italy, and it’s been one of my favorite eating cheeses for years. In truth, I’ve always been reluctant to reveal it for fear that already-limited supplies will become even more difficult to get. What’s so great about it? It’s simply one of the tastiest, most versatile cheeses I’ve ever tried. Excellent on polenta or in risotto. I don’t think I’ve met anyone yet who doesn’t like it. Its flavors are accessible enough to entice a cheese novice, yet more than complex enough to compel cheese fanatics to come back for more. It brings the smoothness of cheddar, the texture of Parmigiano-Reggiano and the mellowness of sweet mountain butter to your table.

I found it nutty, hard at room temperature with a creamy mouthfeel and buttery finish. It melts slowly on the tongue, with a bit of lingering graininess. As it lingers, the finish gets a bit fruity.

Zingerman’s has always raved about this cheese. They describe it as follows:

Not all the wheels that bear the world-famous Parmigiano-Reggiano name are created equal, there are big differences from one to the next. This cheese is made by a dairy nearly 2,000 feet up in the hills outside of Modena, Italy. The high altitude makes for plenty of diversity in the grasses, herbs and flowers growing in the cows’ pastures. This means that the milk–and your cheese–is full of the pasture’s complex flavors. The wheels are aged for a minimum of two years (33% longer than the Consorzio minimum). Most importantly, the finished cheese has a really rich, wonderfully complex flavor with a lovely, long finish. And it has none of that bitterness or mouthburn that often mars the final flavor of others.

Personally, I have a hard time telling good parms apart, and noticing their differences. It was a really nice one, don’t get me wrong. Dry, salty, grainy, lovely crystals inside, fruity at times, nutty at others, and buttery later. Very nice, but I have a hard time telling it from a nice parm at a local cheese shop.

I was most excited at the prospect of the Zamorano. A huge Manchego fan, the description suggested this was produced in a similar fashion but in much smaller quantities, from unique sheep in small production:

Zamorano is a Manchego-like cheese made exclusively from the milk of Churra sheep, an ancient breed that first appeared in the Paleolithic and Neolithic periods and has been giving rich milk ever since. They can be found grazing in the northern plateaus that border Portugal in the province called Zamora, where only 14 farms make Zamorano—a truly local cheese. It is similar in style and shape to Manchego, but the texture is more dense and buttery, the flavor more spicy with a creamier finish on the palate.

I found it … to have a more dense texture than a Manchego, but more mild than a nice flavorful Manchego. It does have a bright finish, with an initially sweet and slightly pungent bite, but many long-aged Manchegos have it beat for complexity of flavor and finish, and end up with a better balanced result. This is not to say it wasn’t an exceptional cheese (it was), but I think they tried too hard to position it as a Manchego beater. I think it’s very accessible and easy to love as a snacking cheese.

Mezzo Secco was up next:

Mezzo Secco is a variant on traditional Monterey Jack (not the stuff they sell in the supermarket) that cheesemaker Ig Vella’s father developed it [sic] at the time when people were beginning to use iceboxes to store fresh dairy products. The fresh Monterey Jack cheese the Vellas made didn’t hold up through the summer heat. Their excellent Dry Jack cheese was aged much longer. The Mezzo Secco filled a wonderful mid-level niche—firmer and more intensely flavored than the fresh cheese; softer and a bit milder than the Dry Jack.

This was the biggest surprise for me of the bunch; I really liked it. It was like jack … but really good. Nutty, delightfully salty, rich, savory, melts in your mouth like butter, creamy mouthfeel like a nice heavy cream soup. It has little pockets of air in it like a nice Manchego, which I find to be a lovely textural touch, though it’s a bit softer by comparison. It’s peppery and fruity near the rind, a lovely little cheese, very nice.

Was supposed to get a Manchego in this assortment but got a Zingerman’s Creamyer Manchester. Whoops. Described:

This is one of the most popular cheeses from Zingerman’s Creamery, a little snow-white mold-ripened round that’s easy to eat and enjoy. It’s got a lovely, modestly forward flavor that most every cheese lover will like. Like all the cheeses from Zingerman’s Creamery, the Manchester is made completely by hand using old-style artisan techniques—we’re confident you really can taste the difference. What makes it unique is its mold-ripening, a technique brought here from France two centuries ago. You’d recognize other cheeses that use it today— Camembert for example. Mold-ripening changes the cheese from the outside in, making it softer and richer as it ages. It’s the best way to make really luscious cheeses, something you’ll notice the minute a piece of Manchester hits your tongue.

I don’t know if this is because it spent too long in shipping (supposed to be an overnighter), or if it’s just me, but this cheese tasted of dirty gym socks at best. I like pungent earthy cheeses, but this was too far beyond what I enjoy eating casually. Ended up tossing this one, unfortunately.

Mmm… Gorgonzola:

Gorgonzola is Italy’s other most well known cheese, and not without good reason. Traditional Gorgonzola is made just south of Milan, in the northern area of Italy called Lombardy. Why Lombardy? Interestingly enough, it was the spot where the cows rested during their long spring and autumn treks to and from seasonal pastures. That meant twice a year, this little town was flooded with more milk than they could possibly drink, so to use up the surplus milk they began making cheese. Eventually it would become known as Gorgonzola. Traditionally, it’s made in two styles: Dolce and Naturale. Dolce is the younger version, Naturale is the matured version. We prefer Gorgonzola Naturale for it’s wonderful intense flavors.

It had a texture of cream cheese, with tiny dense chewy bits every so often. The tang was mid, the cheese buttery, not at all funky, with a dry finish. As it melted, it was sandy and salty, but became smooth and buttery as that sensation vanished. An exceptional example, to my taste.