“American” Cheese

At first, I was thinking that a post on July 4th couldn’t feature the cheeses I’m about to share with you. And then I realized, they were actually a perfect celebration of Independence Day. While the first cheese that likely comes to mind as “American” might be that sad cheese-food product that appears in a flat square format, wrapped in plastic, these days there are plenty of American-made cheeses that celebrate what being American should be, honoring one’s past while looking to the future.

And now, let me present to you these two beautiful specimens of American cheese:

ctmy14-skankleesh labneh with honey

First, we have the White Moustasche’s Shankleesh Labneh. Technically, it’s a labelled as a yogurt, so I guess I’m cheating a little by putting it on the cheese blog, but it spread like a cheese and tasted like one, so similar to Gertrude Stein’s Rose… Oh, and look on their website, they call it a “yogurt cheese”, so there!

Anyway, the White Moustache makes the. best. Greek. yogurt. I. have. ever. tasted. Come to New York to try some for yourself. It’s made in incredibly small batches, so I can’t imagine that it would be the type of thing shipped across, let alone out of the country. (I was right). So far, I have tried their varieties with dates, quince & cardamom, cherries, and mulberries and a slightly savory version with walnuts, mint, & raisins.

A few weeks ago, I swang by the Murray’s counter in Grand Central (obviously, my go-to for cheeses) and saw that they were carrying this new product from the White Moustache, labneh. I’d seen it written about in foodie circles, but hadn’t yet had the occasion to try it. Well, there’s no time like the present…

The Shankleesh version has Aleppo pepper and Za’atar (A to Z!) mixed into the cheese, giving it a mild kick. Immediately, my favorite way to enjoy it was spreading it on crackers or bread and then drizzling it with honey, as seen above. The sweetness melds perfectly with the spice.

ctmy22-smoked. ricotta.

Then, last night, I had more than enough time to kill in GCT before the next train home. A quick trip by Murray’s? Why not? I always check to see if they’ve stocked any new flavors of tWM’s yogurt. I missed the peach last year and don’t want that to happen again. I saw that Smoked Gouda was on sale and had it in my hand with visions of ‘menta cheese dancing in my head, when I this new tub caught my eye.

You will note its similar label (white on black) to the White Moustache’s. That’s what first caught my eye. Then, at second glance: ricotta! Third: smoked! OMG. One of the best meals I ever had on the Boot featured smoked ricotta in its “sauce”. On a couple of occasions, I have tried to recreate it but never achieved that goal. I sense that I will not fail this time.

All the shops are closed today, so I will go out tomorrow and find some zucchini and leeks to blend with the pasta & ricotta. I promise to report back. In the meantime, I opened the tub tonight (no factory seal!) and just dug out (small) scoops onto pita chips. When this dense, yet fluffy, substance first hits your tongue, it’s all about the texture, and then whammo! the flavor comes rushing in and goes straight out to your toes.

At least that was my experience with it. Maybe it’s because I’ve been a veghead for nearly 20 years, and while I don’t miss meat, when I encounter anything smoky in flavor, I find it intoxicatingly exotic. That’s what I love about this stuff. Grazie, Salvatore Bklyngrazie mille! E buona festa della indipendenza, America! 

Considering that America would not be the melting pot it is without the Persians and Italians and numerous other ethnicities who made America their home, I think featuring these two American-made cheeses with worldwide roots is most appropriate today. I hope you agree!

July 5th: Here I am with an update, as promised. Behold this mouth-watering plate o’ pasta:ctmy23-farfalle con funghi, zucchine, porri, e ricotta affumicata

In addition to the leeks & zucchini that I first had in the dish when I sampled it in Venice 8 1/2 years ago (time flies!), I decided to add mushrooms because I figured their earthiness would blend well with the smokiness of the cheese. All the previous times I tried to make this dish, the cheese I had found (from reputable sources like Eataly) had been a lot more solid, less creamy.

This time, I dropped dollops of the soft cheese onto the hot pasta that I had just tossed with the veggies. The ricotta melted and coated the pasta instantly. Yes! Grazie ancora to Salvatore Bklyn for making this divine substance and mille grazie to Salvatore Farina for teaching these folks the fine art of ricotta. Buon appetito!