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A Beauty from Portugal
Emailed September 3, 2014
Anybody who sells cheese for a living knows there’s a large contingent of goat cheese avoiders. These folks lump all styles of goat cheese together and banish them all in one emphatic “yuk.” Presumably they’re remembering some overly tangy, chalky fresh chèvre they once sampled that smelled like a goat barn. We’ve all had one of those.
But I’m convinced that a taste of Alva, a silky Portuguese goat cheese, would seduce a lot of these chevriphobes. Maybe this gentle, mellow wheel isn’t a life-changing cheese experience, but I can’t imagine who could possibly dislike it.
The fabulous Portuguese semisoft cheeses that rarely make it past the FDA anymore—like Azeitão and Serra da Estrela—make me grateful for the ones that do. Alva is matured for only about one month, but it’s produced with pasteurized milk so it has a smoother journey past the FDA’s land mines. The producer, Queijo Tavares, specializes in sheep’s milk cheese and ricotta but clearly has expertise with goat’s milk as well. The Murciana, a rugged,mahogany-coated breed prized for its high-fat milk, supplies the raw material.
Murciana Dairy Goat
Alva weighs about 2-1/2 pounds and has a thin, smooth, barely-there rind that sometimes shows a little gray mold. The rind feels lightly coated, but apparently the creamery isn’t using the antifungal
cheese “paint” that many others use to keep a rind mold free. A wedge cut from the wheel reveals a pale ivory interior, smooth and uniform, with no openings and no variation in hue. The texture is supple and pliable—give a slice the “horseshoe test” and it will bend without breaking.
The aroma isn’t huge but it is inviting, hinting at cheesecake, sour cream and cottage cheese. I also get a whiff of caramel and a suggestion of gym-socks funk, the first clue that Alva is a washed-rind wheel. But Alva isn’t beefy or overly salty, like a lot of washed-rind cheeses. I find it creamy, perfectly salted and restrained in acidity, with a sweetness that comes from rinsing the curd. (Rinsing removes lactose, so the finished cheese has less lactic acid.)
Forever Cheese, the New York importer, began selling Alva only about a year ago. So it’s a relative newcomer here and not widely available. Currently, the only Bay Area retail sources I have found are Pasta Shop in Oakland and Sunshine Foods in St. Helena, but let’s build demand so it’s in more shops soon. At under $25 a pound, it is reasonably priced. Accompany Alva with pears or grapes on a late-summer cheese board. An off-dry sherry or a malt-forward beer, like AleSmith’s Nut Brown Ale or Belhaven Scottish Ale, would make a good match.
Your Turn to Taste the Winners
ACS winner
What cheeses floated to the top in this year’s prestigious American Cheese Society competition? Join me on Tuesday evening, October 7, at HALL Wines in St. Helena for
Blue-Ribbon Winners from the American Cheese Society. At this sit-down tasting in the winery’s beautiful demonstration kitchen, I’ll introduce you to the judges’ favorite in six different style categories—to give you a glimpse of what this country’s top cheese makers are up to. No guarantees, but I’ll do my best to secure the Best of Show. Reservations required. For more class details and registration click here.

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Janet Fletcher

Welcome to my world: a fragrant, fascinating universe devoted to great cheese. In this and future issues of Planet Cheese, you’ll find profiles of the world’s best cheeses plus insights into everything cheese: shops, recipes, interviews, pairing discoveries, classes, videos, travel. If you haven’t already done so, sign up here - it’s complimentary - and join me in learning something new about cheese every week.
World Cheese
Tour Resumes
Hall Cheese Class
Join me
  at Napa Valley’s newest showplace—HALL Wines in St. Helena—for two evenings of themed cheese exploration. You’ll sample exceptional cheeses from around the world, accompanied by fine wine from the HALL collection. Come once…or sign on for both to really boost your cheese IQ. Each evening begins with a wine reception, followed by a sit-down guided tasting.

Both classes are from
5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Reservations required at
Or call: 707-265-0404.

October 7:
American Cheese Society Blue Ribbon Winners

November 4:
Italy Off the Beaten Path
Find my books:
Cheese & Wine
The Cheese Course
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Plated cheese photo: Faith Echtermeyer   |   Other Photos: Janet & Doug Fletcher
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Copyright © 2014 Janet Fletcher Food Writer, All rights reserved.

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