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Say Cheese: From the mountains, it's Chiantino


Chiantino combined with mushrooms makes a delectable, hearty strudel. (Domenica Marchetti)

It has long been my wish to spend a winter in the Alps. Apparently, this winter, it was granted without my even having to leave my own backyard. So what better way to celebrate these gorgeous (albeit inconvenient) Alpine conditions than with a lovely Alpine cheese?

I’m referring to Chiantino, which despite its Italian-sounding name, is not from Italy. It’s not even from Switzerland or France. Chiantino is a German cheese, produced in the mountains of Allgäu, not far from the Italian border. It shares some characteristics of other Alpine cheeses but is definitely its own thing.

Chiantino is a pasteurized, washed-rind cow’s milk cheese that is semi-firm in texture. The milk used to make the cheese comes from small herds of cows that graze only on grass and alpine flora. The curds are molded into 15-pound wheels that are washed in brine made from young Italian red wine — hence the name — and salt
and ripened for about 100 days. It has a thin, inedible ochre-colored rind and a mildly pungent aroma characteristic of washed-rind cheeses.

The paste is a warm gold color and smooth and creamy in texture — less plastic than typical Swiss alpine cheeses — with no holes or “eyes.” It has a full-bodied nutty flavor, like a good Gruyere or Emmental, but lacks the sweet note characteristic of the other two, and in fact has an almost cheddary richness about it. I really enjoy Chiantino at room temperature, which allows its fullness to come through, with simple water crackers.

Recipe Included

But, as you might guess, it is also a good cooking cheese: It shreds and melts well and would be at home in quiches and omelets. I came across a recipe for a wild mushroom strudel with Chiantino on the web site of Market of Choice, a family-owned Oregon supermarket chain. It sounded like a good snowstorm recipe, so I made a pre-blizzard trip to Balducci, in Old Town, not far from my house. There I found both the cheese and Dufour puff pastry, which I like because it’s made with real butter. (I may be the only person in the D.C. region who made a puff-pastry run before the storm).

I tweaked the recipe a bit, adding dried porcini to the mix of fresh mushrooms, and substituting fresh rosemary for thyme. The strudel puffed up and browned nicely, and inside, the cheese melted beautifully into the mushroom mixture. It turned out to be the perfect faux-Alpine appetizer to counter the very real forces of Nature.

-- Domenica Marchetti
(Follow her on Twitter.)

Mushroom and Chiantino Cheese Strudel
Makes 8 appetizer servings

When working with puff pastry be sure to thaw it according to the manufacturer's instructions, and take care to work fast. This is delicate pastry that becomes soft quickly, so keep it refrigerated until you are ready to use it.

Adapted from a recipe on marketofchoice.com, the web site of Market of Choice, an Oregon supermarket chain.

1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
3/4 cup boiling water
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium cloves garlic, sliced paper-thin
8 ounces portobello mushrooms, thinly sliced
6 ounces shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 cup grated Chiantino cheese
One 14-ounce package puff pastry, thawed according to the manufacturer’s instructions (two 10- by 6-inch sheets)
1 egg, lightly beaten with 1 tablespoon water

Put the porcini mushrooms in a small bowl and pour the boiling water over them. Let the mushrooms sit until softened, about 20 minutes. Strain them through a fine-mesh sieve lined with a damp paper towel or a coffee filter, taking care to capture the liquid in a bowl. Set the liquid aside. Coarsely chop the mushrooms and set them aside separately from the liquid.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add the oil and the garlic. Adjust the heat so the garlic cooks, but does not brown. Allow the garlic to cook, stirring from time to time, until it is softened and fragrant, but not browned, about 7 minutes. Adjust the heat to medium and add the sliced portobello and shiitake mushrooms and the chopped porcini mushrooms. Season with salt and pepper to taste and the rosemary; then pour in the reserved porcini liquid. Stir to combine. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring from time to time, until most of the liquid has evaporated and the mushrooms are tender, about 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Once the mushroom mixture is cool, stir in the Chiantino cheese. Place the puff pastry sheets on a lightly floured work surface. (If the sheet is one large piece, cut into two 10- by 6-inch pieces.) Lay one of the sheets on an ungreased or parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet. Spoon the mushroom mixture evenly over the pastry sheet, taking care to leave a small (1/2-inch) border all the way around. With a pastry brush, brush some of egg wash all around the border.

With a sharp paring knife, cut several horizontal slits through the second sheet of puff pastry and then lay it over the filling, lining up the edges with the bottom piece of pastry. Use the tines of a fork to seal the two sheets of puff pastry. Brush the entire top with more egg wash.

Bake the strudel for about 30 minutes, until it is puffed and browned. To serve, cut the strudel crosswise into 8 slices. Serve hot or warm.

Per serving: 374 calories, 15 g protein, 24 g carbohydrates, 25 g fat, 9 g saturated fat, 26 mg cholesterol, 627 mg sodium, 2 g dietary fiber, 4 g sugar

Recipe tested by Domenica Marchetti; e-mail questions to food@washpost.com.

By The Food Section  |  February 16, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Say Cheese  | Tags: Domenica Marchetti, Say Cheese, cheese  
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