Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Robiola La Rossa

Piedmont is a region in Italy that lies to the North and is surrounded by mountains on three sides.  It is the home of some of Italy's most highly regarded wines, Barolo and Barberesco, and some of my favorite Italian culinary delights including cheese.  You'll find an entire family of cheeses here called Robiola. You'll love their creamy rich, buttery flavors and tangy finish.  Typically they are made from a mix of milk types usually including cow's milk and are meant for relatively immediate consumption being soft-ripened.

More than likely this style of cheese evolved as a farmhouse cheese that would have been eaten by the cheese-maker, family, and friends.  In the past, it's certain this cheese would not have been exported and likely wouldn't even make it to the local market because of it's delicate nature.  Mixing milks occurred because farms usually just had a few cows, goats, and/or sheep, and there was seldom enough surplus milk to fill an entire cheese mold from one animal.  The milks would have been mixed, and a delicious tradition born.

Nowadays, due the miracle of modern refrigeration, we can all enjoy Robiola outside of the beautiful foothills of Piedmont.  The one I always see at Whole Foods these days is called La Tur and it is a mix of all three milks.  It's soft, creamy, and has just a hint of sourness on the finish.  Rocchetta is also quite good, a mixture of cow and sheep and is more inexpensive than La Tur.  However, if you're lucky, you might encounter Robiola La Rossa.

I first encountered Robiola La Rossa a few years ago at work, and was dealt quite a surprise when I first tasted it.  It's a mix of sheep and cow's milk and wrapped in the leaves of a cherry tree that have been soaked in booze.  From previous experience, I expected a mild mouthful of creamy goodness, but I got a full flavored sensory experience instead.  The leaves seem to impart a deeply earthy spicy quality to the buttery paste.  Once the small wheels are fully ripe, they even begin to stink a little - or a lot!  It's pretty easy to get lost in the funky deliciousness and you might even finish the whole wheel in one sitting if you're anything like me.  It's a deeply satisfying and delicious cheese to sit down to as part of a meal, or a meal unto itself with a little crusty bread and vino.

With wine, I recommend a light Dolcetta d'Alba.  These are lovely wines from Alba in Piedmont, a town also famous for its truffles.  Dolcetto means little sweet one, and though the wines are dry in the Italian tradition, they have an innocent and sweet demeanor.  I usually taste bright cherry and raspberry fruit that is sure to accent the creaminess and the earthy flavors of Robiola la Rossa.  Arneis, a white Piedmont specialty, would also be nice if you're not in the mood for a red.  They typically have soft red apple, pear, floral, and almond notes that would provide a gentle background for the cheese to show off its complexity over.  Either way you're in for a treat if you can find this delicious little wheel of heaven.  Bon appetit!

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