Portuguese cheeses and olive oils
A new area for me. I'm looking to venture forth but need recommendations to get started. Re the cheeses, I am not shy about strong flavors.
I probably should post this on the SF board, but since they are pictures of manufactured products, which should be available anywhere, I figured...
I just bought some Portuguese olive oils (and other goodies) at Luso Mercado in San Leandro, CA.
Here they are, I am looking forward to trying them. Lovely cans!
It's very hard to find Portuguese cheeses in the US. I've had some in Portugal that are amazing, especially an artisanal mountain cheese that is shaped like a drum, with a hard outer shell and a creamy ripe center that's soft enough to dip bread into. I've never found this or anything like it in the States.
One decent one that is widely available in the US is Bom Petisco. Be careful when buying this, though - it shows up in stores varying from squishy-soft to as firm as cheddar. Go for the softest you can find, ideally with a practically spreadable consistency. It's not overpoweringly strong in flavor but has a wonderfully delicious unctuousness. The firmer ones are boring and taste like American-made muenster. I have no idea why they vary like this, because I'll often find a batch with the same sell-by date that have several different textures, so it does not appear to be a factor of age. Anyway, get a gooey one and you'll be happy.
re: Melanie Wong
Concurrant posts ... at Berkeley Bowl ... NOW ... also at La Salette currently. What type of port would you suggest with this? Nothing super-pricy. Otherwise I might be forced to trot up to La Salette to get a pairing. They are offering Souza Vintage 1997, Krohn 20 year Tawny or Broadbent 10 year Malmsey madiera with their cheese plates.
Of course, I've been looking for an excuse to trot up to La Salette for the malasadas anyway.
re: Melanie Wong
It would be great if what I'm remembering is Serra de Estrela, I've been missing it since my last trip to Portugal and this would give me something specific to look for! But the description in the link rworange gives does not sound quite right - it describes a cheese that has a thin outer rind. The one I'm thinking of has a very hard outer rind, in fact the top has to be cut off with a sharp knife, rather like removing the lid of a tin, to get at the creamy goodness within.
The outside rind hardens and the inside gets creamier as the cheese ages. The examples I've had in the US are far less ripe, so they are like what rwo describes. I think the trick would be to purchase a whole and uncut one yourself and age it to perfection. Too many are cut into far too young.
I wonder if that first cheese you mentioned was Serra da Estrella a soft, pungent sheep's milk sheep made with thistle rennet that is sheer, oozy wonderfulness.
In the link at the bottom of this post describing a few Portuguese cheeses it says ...
"Serra da Estrela is consumed in two styles - When it is young, it oozes and it is buttery and rich, with fresh herbal undertones; and as it matures, it is a bit more cohesive with a sharper flavor, picking up a sweet, soft, caramel-like underpinning in the process."
Produced since the 12th century using some of Portugal's top-grade milk from a single milking. It is hand-made from November through February and according to that link it takes three hours to make each cheese with only two or three made in a day.
I bought this at a great local cheese shop called Berkeley Bowl, but a local Portuguese restaurant serves it drizzled with almond honey ... the sound of that combo sounds insanely amazing and I'm going to have to try it.
There were other thistle rennet Portuguese cheeses like La Serena and Serpa. They were good too. Not as oozy, lightly pungent but the thistle, IMO, adds a sweetness to these cheeses.
Until then I thought Portuguese cheeses were hard, the most common being queijo de Topo and queijo de São Jorge ... sharp, solid cow's milk cheeses often eaten with quince marmelada.
A local restaurant serves house-made queijo fresco soft cream-cheese like farmers cheese. It was ok but didn't grab my attention.
I have cabra penmacor, a semi-hard goats-milk cheese that is supposed to be complex on my to-try list. The restaurant that has this currently serves it with pear slices.
It also depends on where your local Portuguese population originates. In the San Francisco area, it is mainly people from the nine Azore islands. In most Portuguese stores only the hard cheeses from that area are common.
Thanks to your post and my recent experience with the sotf cheeses, I plan to see what else is sold in this area. I'll probably try the cheese shops rather than the Portuguese stores for better variety.
Here's a nice description of some of the above and others
A few more Portuguese cheese mentions. Don't know the availability in Canada or the US.
Here's a place in Toronto which I am guessing is in your home turf that has what seems like an amazing selection ... The Portuguese Cheese Company
Even those not in Canada should check out the site for excellent pictures and descripitons and quite a few recipes on how to use each type like ...
- São Miguel Mashed Potatoes
- Serra Cauliflower Soup
- Fusilli with St. John’s Cheese and Roasted Peppers
- Eggplant Vaquinha
And many more. The company history says the cheeses are those of the Azores.
The Portuguese extra virgin oils I've tasted have a pronounced, super-ripe almost nutty flavor that fills nose and mouth and that is quite different from the sharper, grassier style of, say, Tuscans or even Sicilians, and rounder and thicker than many Spanish. They're generally good value.
If it was Serra de Estrela, the wheel is a little over a pound, 6 to 8 inches in diameter. There is a very similar cheese, Azeitao, that comes in smaller, 250 gm wheels. Both are made with raw sheep's milk, soft and pungent, with an "acidic" bite. Two of the world's great cheeses, powerful and complex. They are true artisan rustic mountain cheeses with soft, funky looking rinds that can get a bit tough as they age. I get these for our shop, and since they're not in big demand, usually eat half of our order myself. I love 'em.