Lydia Burns is one of several fromagers at Fox & Obel, and when I stopped in a few weeks ago to ask her about her favorite cheese, she went straight for the Caprino Castagno, a product of Italy that is currently mentioned almost exclusively on Italian sites.
Wrapped in chestnut leaves, and a little oozy around the edges, Caprino Castagno is made by affineur Gianni Cora in the Piedmont, a northern state of Italy surrounded by the Alps and centered in Turin. It is one intense slab of cultured goat milk, extremely creamy and dense, with the weight and spread of butter and the acute tang of Roquefort. This is not a cheese for dilettantes.
When I opened my Caprino Castagno, however, I was a little taken aback to find blue blooms on one side of it. I emailed Lydia a photo, and her response promised that the molds were edible: “The blue molds are usually strands of p. roquefortii, (the blue mold in Roquefort and most blues, for example), and will grow in cracks where the moisture collects, such as in English cheddars, or in moist wrapped cheeses such as the Caprino. Other examples of good molds are p. candidum, which is the white rind on brie and camembert and other bloomy rind cheeses. Molds are fungi and members of the same group as mushrooms, but somewhere down the line people began to think that all molds are bad, which is certainly not the case. When mold appears on bread, you should immediately throw it out; cheese is a living food or culture and a number of the molds that can develop add to its flavor, and in some cases its value (in England, the moldy veins in cheddars are coveted).”
In response to Burns’ judgement that the blue blooms were no problem, Catherine Lambrecht, a former President of the Illinois Mycological Association, responded “I wouldn’t eat it. There is a difference between intentionally introduced fungi/molds and those who popped up from the atmosphere. You have no idea what you may be consuming.”
Well, Lambrecht’s comments notwithstanding (and she does make an interesting point) we decided to eat the cheese and found it delicious, without off-smells or odd tastes. The chestnut leaves, which are traditionally used to help preserve the cheese during warm months, impart a slight bitter note that balances well with the slightly sweet milkiness of the cheese. Make no mistake, though: this is serious cheese with a lot of personality; you may find it needs to be moderated with some pickles or cut veggies. With a robust red, it’s a fine and formidable fromage for a cool spring evening.