I just got around to reading Michael Paterniti’s New York Times Best Seller “ The Telling Room: A Tale of Love, Betrayal, Revenge and The World’s Greatest Piece of Cheese,” the true story of a Spanish cheese maker and his family’s cheese.
By LINCOLN BROADBOOKS
The story is an interesting look into Castilian culture; all at once untouched by modern society and thoroughly steeped in it.
“Fiddler On The Roof” comes to mind with the tension between tradition and change woven throughout the story. A word of caution, Paterniti’s use of footnotes may throw many readers off but they become more bearable when he lets us know that they are meant to mirror the constant digressions of Castilian story telling.
At least in the beginning, the book reads like cheese hagiophraphy — the author eventually admits this — but we soon find that the adoration of the cheese and it’s maker may be misplaced because of a thoroughly American author seduced by a new culture.
The cheese in the book is called P á ramo de Guzm á n. It’s described as a cheese made from the raw milk of the Churra breed of sheep. It is aged for a year. It’s very flavorful with a nutty and salty bite. And in some cases it is almost overwhelmingly tangy.
One of the most interesting things about the cheese is that it’s cut into wedges and then packed into a tin can. It is then covered in Spanish olive oil and sealed.
The cheese is still made today but not by the original owner and cheese maker and not with the same artisanal, small batch techniques of the past. If you read the book you can find out what happened.
I recommend it, for what it’s worth.
I believe it is still imported to the U.S., but on a smaller scale from the height of its popularity in the 1990’s. This makes it harder to find.
As I was reading the book it sounded like a cheese I wanted to try. Since I don’t have a trip to Spain planned soon and my search with the importers we work with came up empty I thought I would do some recreation and do something similar. It turned out quite well. If you ever get the itch, I think you should try it.
All you need is some Manchego cheese, a few sprigs of thyme, a teabag of 100 percent chamomile flowers and a good Spanish extra virgin olive oil. You can see what I have done in the pictures above.
The longer you let the cheese soak in the herbs and olive oil the more the flavor will infuse the cheese. I would go ahead and refrigerate the jar even though the olive oil will probably solidify. Just take it out and let it get to room temp when you are ready to eat the cheese.
A few explanations on some of the ingredients maybe prudent. I picked Manchego because it is a very common Spanish sheep’s milk cheese. I would have used Zamorano but had none on hand. Zamorano is a Castilian sheep’s milk cheese, made from Churra sheep’s milk and from the same region as Páramo de Guzmán.
Manchego is made in La Mancha and made from Manchega sheep’s but still similar. Be sure to use a raw milk Manchgo. I used aged Essex 1605 Manchego. It has a perfect tanginess that just works. Remember that all Manchego’s are not of the same quality so whatever you use, taste it before you buy it.
The Churra sheep herd that gave the milk for Páramo de Guzmán fed on the tough landscape around the town of Guzmán. Little grass grows there but a lot of thyme and chamomile flourish in the climate. A big part of the sheep’s diet consisted of those herbs. Those flavors came through in the finished cheese so thyme and chamomile are used to mimic that flavor.
Eat the finished product at room temperature or slightly heat the pieces of cheese in a pan to bring out the flavor even more. The chunks of cheese are perfect for salads or just eaten with crusty break and Spanish chorizo. The left over olive oil works great for a vinaigrette or drizzled on roasted veggies.
Lincoln Broadbooks loves cheese. He is one of the first cheesemongers in the United States and Canada to become an American Cheese Society Certified Cheese Professional. He is the manager and buyer for The Better Cheddar in Prairie Village. You can check out his monthly Cheese Wiz column in Tastebud Magazine and find him on Twitter @LincolnBbook and on Instagram @lincycheese.