why are some cheeses wrapped in plantain leaves?
does anyone know if the plantain leaf that came draped over the mexican farmer's cheese i just bought serves a function, or if it's just decoration?
the package says "with plantain leaf" on it, so it seems like a thing.
(and it's a plastic clamshell package, so it doesn't seem like the leaf has a handling or insulation or moisture-retention purpose, like with those little sticky rice snack bundles you can buy in chinatown)
There are some cheese makers on here that may have more suggestions.
But, fresh cheeses used to wrapped in leaves (and some still are depending on where in the world you are) so you knew how fresh they were. If the leaf was old, rotten, or shriveled you knew the cheese wasn't fresh. Could be a carry over from that original packaging.
Fresh cheese was always "protected" in some ways both for hygiene and to keep moisture. Ricotta cheese would always, in the times of no refrigeration, arrive at the market in their straw container covered on top with a fig leaf or, better yet, a round "lid" of semi-soft cheese made on purpose.
Aged cheese would be wrapped in vine leaves or something similar for more "technical "reasons.
To age properly it's essential for the cheese to form a crust. If the process is too hasty the crust can break which is not acceptable for both aesthetic and hygienic reasons ( would you buy a cheese all craggy with mold inside the crags?).
A proper crust, depending on the cheese, needs time and care. Have you ever seen those long rows of cheese forms that need to be turned-up regularly so as not to ripen unevenly? And/or break?
There are many tricks to achieving a proper crust: some would quickly dip the cheese in boiling water, then, especially for pecorino, protect it with olive oil applied regularly until the crust was hard and the inside well on its way to ripening. In Tuscany they used to store those special small, oval, "marzolini" ( made with the first milk when the sheep start eating the fresh herbs again) inside an "orcio" (large, heavy, clay jar) with olive oil and ash which would then be shaken up and rolled at regular interval until summer.
The use of leaves ( or sometimes the spent lees after distilling grappa, seeds) provides a convenient way to protect the cheese until the crust is formed as well as , hopefully, impart some flavour and aroma to it.
Burrata was made by inflating by mouth (much like flasks were made out of glass) a large piece of soft mozzarella-like cheese and then filling it with mozzarella cheese morsels and cream. The container was to protect the inside but it needed to be protected itself, that's why the leaves (again, fig leaves) wrapping.