Lately, I have become extremely partial to leaf-wrapped small format cheeses. I love the earthiness that leaf-wrapping generally imparts, and find that these cheeses seamlessly complement the warm, fresh taste profile of many of my favorite summer foods.
Moist leaf-wrapping creates a robust flavor (not to mention the incredible aroma of walking through a forest after a rain shower) by fostering the growth of the “good” bacteria that contribute to flavor enhancement. There are many classic examples of leaf-wrapped small cheeses: Banon from France, Robiola from Italy, as well as a couple of great options from America, too.
My most recent leaf-wrapped find is, in fact, very American: the Hoja Santa Goat Cheese, a small handmade cheese crafted by Paula Lambert and her team at the Mozzarella Company in Dallas, Texas. It is made from locally sourced goat’s milk and wrapped in the Hoja Santa leaf that grows in the Dallas area. It’s worth noting that this cheese was the winner of the 2011 American Cheese Society Competition, so definitely make sure to try this one out if you get the chance.
What makes the Hoja Santa Goat Cheese unique is Lambert’s choice of leaves. Most cheesemakers choose chestnut, fig, or cherry leaves for their cheese-wrapping; the hoja santa leaf is special in that it imparts hints of anise, mint, and sassafras to the slightly lemony tartness of the cheese. Hoja santa, which translates to English as sacred leaf, is actually an extremely common flavoring herb in traditional Mexican cooking. It is part of the peppercorn family and is often used to add zest to a dish and then is then discarded, as you would a bay leaf.
This week I’ve been taking the opportunity to relax on my patio in the late afternoon and enjoying some Hoja Santa Cheese spread onto warm, fire-grilled bread paired with a Shiner Bock beer (brewed in Shiner, Texas). The cheese’s herbs add a contrasting sweetness and spiciness that pairs wonderfully with the light hops flavors of the dark lager. These are Texas-style treats at their best, and are a fitting East Coast salute to my friends in the Lone Star State at the Mozarella Company.
Additional reporting by Madeleine James.