I recently stopped by Mario Batali and Lidia Batistanich’s famed “Eataly” in NYC’s Flatiron district. I’ve visited here before with family, friends, guests visiting NY but always in a rush to eat and move on to the next NY attraction I never had the chance to slowly wander through the place and admire all that it has to offer. This time, I took my time making my way in and out of each section. When I passed by the immense cheese section I felt as if I had been immediately transported to Italy. I began to recall all of the flavorful experiences I had while I lived abroad in Florence. The hearty chunks of pecorino adorned with thin slices of salty prosciutto and a drop of truffle honey, the fresh mascarpone topped on sweet desserts, and the ricotta stuffed cannolis, all came rushing back to my taste buds.
Seeing those racks and racks of cheese also brought another thing to my attention, cheese can be overwhelming! From soft to hard and salty to sweet, cheese has many varieties. I sometimes get anxiety wondering if I’m pairing the right cheese with the right accompaniment. I decided to pick up a book (or two, or three) and learn about the different kinds. Between my new found textbook knowledge and my current cooking experience, I was inspired to create a post giving you all a few tidbits about cheese and the different kinds that are available. Also listed are a few suggestions on what to pair each cheese with. I hope to introduce a new dish using cheese every so often over the next couple of weeks. Feel free to chime in with any fantastic pairings you’ve tried recently as well!
Classified as a “fresh cheese”, goat cheese is a very soft, creamy cheese. It has a relatively distinct tangy flavor and is white in color. Here we pair it with dark chocolate. Although it is not an extremely popular pairing it is definitely worth trying! I came across this pairing at Murray’s cheese shop in the West Village. They were offering up small samples of goat cheese chunks topped with a small piece of dark chocolate. The combination gives off a tangy sweet flavor and the crunch of the chocolate nicely counter balances the creaminess of the cheese.
Goat cheese also pairs well with: chives, figs, honey, lemon, walnuts
Burrata is considered a “stretched-curd cheese”. Stretched-curd cheeses have a pliable mass that make them resemble string cheese. Burrata is part of the fresh Italian mozzarella family and is a speciality of Puglia. It was originally created using buffalo milk but cow’s milk versions are now available today. The traditional and simple way to eat any fresh mozzarella is to pair it with some ripened tomatoes and basil (as we’ve done here for our featured pairing).
Burrata also pairs well with: sauvignon blanc, garlic, pesto, peaches, plums
Part of the “bloomy rind cheese” category, brie is traditionally made from raw milk and ladled into molds to age for about 4-10 weeks. It has an extremely soft, creamy texture and nearly oozes out of its rind once cut from the wheel. Brie is named after the place in which it is made (a small region near Paris). It pairs well with fruity jams and so we’ve decided to pair it with a moscato wine jam and a sliced baguette. The jam can be found at specialty stores, the one we’ve featured here was found at Eataly.
Brie also pairs well with: apples, fennel, melon, pears, pistachios
Gorgonzola is a “blue-veined cheese” and has a very distinct pungent aroma and tastefully moldy flavor. It typically ages for 3+ months when being made. Gorgonzola is made in various regions of Italy as well as Denmark, Austria, and others. Here, we paired gorgonzola with pears. Mixed into a salad, these two truly compliment each other.
Gorgonzola also pairs well with: apples, cherries, figs, honey, walnuts
Taleggio is considered a “washed rind cheese” and has a yellowish thin rind. It is typically created from cow’s milk and is aged for about 6-10 weeks. It originated in Val Taleggio in Lombardy. It’s interior is buttery and soft with a slightly salty flavor. It is a great cheese for melting, especially into risotto or polenta.
Taleggio also pairs well with: hazelnuts, mostarda (mustard fruits), pears, potatoes, soft red wines
Pecorino is a “hard cheese” and is common in the warmer southern region of Italy. It is aged until it becomes hard enough for grating. It’s typically made from pale sheep’s milk and can have a slightly salty taste. When I was living in Florence, this was my go to cheese. I would snack on this with truffled honey all the time. It was also popular to find this stuffed inside ravioli in the nearby restaurants.
Pecorino also pairs well with: bacon, pears, proscuitto, ricotta, balsamic vinegar
Cheese can be a delightful afternoon snack, a post dinner course, or a main ingredient in a dish. It is extremely versatile in the way it is served. There is no right or wrong way to pair or eat cheese and sometimes you need to be adventurous to discover great new flavor combinations!
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