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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Cheeses Fit for an Emperor


We’re on the island of Corsica where we’ve rented a home with a glorious view of the sun setting over the Mediterranean.  Just 100 miles south of the French Riviera, the island’s claim to fame is Napoleon's birthplace.  In my book, the island’s notoriety should be its cheese.  Lying only 50 miles from Italy, Corsica is an interesting combination of French and Italian culture, including its cuisine and food products.

Cheese is one of the pillars of Corsica’s gastronomy.    The climate, terrain and robust wild plant vegetation provide a perfect formula for cheeses which are very different from those of the mainland.  A mind-boggling variety of artisanal cheese exits;  from mild and creamy to pungent and firm, all are made from free-grazing sheep and goats.  Most are made by small producers.  As there are hardly any cheese shops on Corsica, people buy cheese at the morning markets.

Brocciu is the only cheese on the island to bear the prestigious AOC seal (made under a host of stringent regulations that control the origin and the production of the product).   Similar to Italy’s ricotta, it is made from the whey, a byproduct of cheese-making that is usually discarded.   Like ricotta, Brocciu, is used in many dishes such as salads, pasta stuffing, omelettes, cakes and pastries.   In fact, Brocciu’s so popular that it’s sold in reusable containers---refilled frequently by the local cheese-maker.   It can be consumed fresh, or aged in small discs. 

Brin d'Amour, a "spot of love," is aptly named.  Sheep graze freely on wild herbs from the Corsican scrub such as rosemary, thyme and oregano, and what they eat adds a specific flavor to their milk.  The resulting rich cheese, which is also covered with the wild herbs, has a velvet-like, voluptuous consistency that melts in your mouth.  Floral nuances mix with savory and a subtle blend of spice.

The Giancoli family produces nearly 70 Chevre de la Tavagna cheese per day.  Their farm, located on the northeastern side of Corsica (just across from the Italian mainland), is in a mountainous area where their goats roam at will.  The artisan chevre, usually aged for 7 months, is pungent.  But, get past its smell and you’ll find a taste that represents the best of a glorious Corscian mountain landscape mixed with a touch of the Mediterranean’s salt air.

Both Brocciou and Brin d'Amour are exported to the USA.  If you can't find them locally, they are available online.  For information about Corsican wines to accompany your cheese, stay tuned for my next Blog posting.

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