La Pecora Nera

La Pecora Nera

Appetizer. Prosciutto. Salami. Cheese with pears and honey.

Feast. Steak. Lamb. Mutton.

I’d have to say that the highlight of this restaurant was the cheese with pears and honey dish. The cheese listed on the menu didn’t come with names, and the server didn’t tell us the type of cheese either (I’m not sure if this was due to a language barrier…(you know…bunch of Asians sitting in an Italian restaurant deep in the countryside region of Rome), so I’m unable to tell you what the hell exactly we ate. Either way, it was a hard crumbly sort of cheese, harder than feta, but definitely not as soft as mozzarella. Paired with the sweet tanginess of the honey, the flavor profile was rich and fatty with a strong umami, accompanied beautifully by the sweetness of the honey. The honey served was cloudy and pretty grainy, which made for an amazing mouthfeel, since most supermarket honeys are all purified, pasteurized, and homogenized to death.

Cheese. Honey. Pears. C.H.P. Not California Highway Patrol.

I was never a huge cheese fan, but it got me thinking as to how they make varying degrees of hard and soft cheese as well as distinguishing tastes, textures, and even colors (blue, green, yellow, white…etc). From basic knowledge, I knew that cheese was created from milk, fermented until curds formed, and then flavored by the presence of natural bacteria. Sounds kind of crude and gross, but its true.

A quick primer on cheese.

Cheese, in today’s modern world, is created using three main things.

Milk, Rennet (or chymosin for those who speak nerd), and starter bacteria/acid (microbes).

Take milk, add rennet, which specifically obliterates repelling charges on proteins. Proteins rejoice and hug each other (forming a mass). Microbes further digest lactose, and the accompanying acid further denatures proteins (albeit more slowly), allowing them to form a solid. Yum. Cheese.

So what makes a cheese hard?

You can probably answer this question using the information above. Rennet specifically cuts off a “cap” that contains a negative charge, which allows proteins to quickly come together. Acid, on the other hand takes a while, and must be strong enough to denature proteins, and thus, acts over time. In order to create hard cheese, the ratio of rennet to acid starter will be higher.

What makes a soft cheese?

Less rennet, more acid (and sometimes heat).

What makes the flavor of cheese?

Bacteria starter. Example? Mesophilic bacteria create the flavor profiles of Gouda and Parmesan. Lactophilic bacteria create the flavor profile of mozzarella. Propionibacter Shermanii creates the flavor profile and gas (carbon dioxide is a by-product of these gassy bacterias) of Swiss/Emmental cheese. (Hence, the hole-y nature of Swiss).

**Sooo…what happens when you combined a ton of weird, odd bacteria to create some sort of monster cheese? **

I’m not…sure. It could be absolutely amazing-blazing, or you could potentially be ingesting some SERIOUS bacteria (think, expired milk out in the sun for a couple of days).

Why does it smell so bad?

Cheese is basically a product of milk that’s gone bad. That is the most simple definition, really. When we eat cheese, we’re eating bacterial by-products (yum yum flavor?) and soured milk (the curd, formed by rennet/acid). Humans naturally evolved senses to determine what was edible and what was rotten as a means to survive (we’re enamored by sweet fruits (red apples, pink guavas), off-put by bitter things (licorice), and disgusted by rotten things (sulfuric eggs or sometimes…cheese).

For the record, Kraft singles are not cheese. Least not in my world.