Here in Northern Umbria, right near the Tuscan border, we eat a lot of sheep cheese, or pecorino. And now, along comes Brent Zimmerman of Valle di Mezzo, who is trying to expand our palates with goat cheeses. Brent and his partner Alessandro own an impressive goat farm and cheese making operation right outside the town of Anghiari, just over the border in Tuscany.
Brent’s enthusiasm is contagious as he drops whatever it is that he’s been doing and takes us on a tour of the cheese making operation and goat farm.
Disclaimer: I really love goats, I think they are very cool animals and I would have one or two as pets in a heartbeat, but I can’t imagine them traveling back and forth between NY and Montone. And here’s another secret: I don’t like goat cheese. I’m fairly certain that I have a damaged cheese tasting chromosome, as it’s the only possible explanation why I wouldn’t like a whole category of cheeses! My sister, who also loves all things cheese, hates blue cheeses, so there has to be some familial genetic flaw. But, at a dinner party in NY, our friend Will brought some tasty goat cheeses, and now Brent is starting to make me a fan of the formaggi di capra as it’s called in this part of the world.
We started our tour in the cheese sauna. It was a seriously hot and steamy room that Brent took us into, where there was this huge vat of goat milk that he was reducing and caramelizing. It had this delicious sweet and nutty flavor and while the cheese was only half way through the reducing process, I can just imagine the final product.
We refreshed ourselves in the cool and much drier aging room. There is nothing quite like that sort of moldy, yeasty, cheesy smell, it’s really seductive, you immediately go ‘ooohhhh’ and ‘ahhhh’ like children looking at a wall of wrapped Christmas presents. Brent explained all the different types of cheeses that he’s been making: brie, blue, round wheels wrapped in tobacco leaves, other wheels that were destined to be wrapped in grappa soaked chestnut leaves, little fingers of cheese that were coated in lavender ash. It is quite impressive to see all these varieties of cheese especially as Brent is pretty much a one-man operation tending his goats, milking them and then making the cheese.
Next we headed out to the fields and followed the beautiful tinkle-tinkle sound of the goat bells until we found the herd munching away, enjoying life. Back at the barn were some of the young girls and the stunningly handsome stud billy goat. These are happy, well cared for goats and Brent’s delicious cheeses make a great addition to the great cheeses of this area.
We made our cheese choices, which was not easy, and then headed home for a proper tasting. So, up on the roof, with a glass of good wine, some home made bread, we tasted and enjoyed. Our hands down favorite was the brie, which was the most complex of the bunch, but they all had their merits.
Brent has generously offered to let me watch the cheese making process right from the milking, and I’m looking forward to that, even if it means getting up at 4:00 in the morning! I guess I’m learning how to overcome my goat cheese disability after all!