By Mrinalini Kamath
Grated, cubed, crumbled, sliced, shredded or shaved – however you serve it, I have always loved cheese.
So you can imagine my delight when Morena Febbo of Calabro Cheese invited me for a cheese tasting in preparation for June, which is National Dairy Month. While I was expecting much deliciousness, little did I realize that Calabro Cheese would ruin me for all other mozzarellas and ricottas.
Calabro Cheese is an award-winning, 57-year-old family run business based in East Haven, Connecticut, which specializes in Ricotta, Ricotta Impastata, Mozzarella Fior Di Latte, Grated Parmesan and Romano cheeses, as well as specialty cheeses including scamorze, caciocavallo, burrini, smoked mozzarella, fresh basket cheese and queso blanco. Joseph Calabro, the late patriarch of the company, immigrated to Connecticut from Sicily, and after beginning to deliver his handmade cheeses to local Mom and Pop stores, eventually expanded to a factory and serves retailers throughout the Tri-State area.
But enough about the history of the company: Let’s move on the main course.
Morena started me off by giving me A Brief History of Ricotta and Mozzarella, in order that I might understand what makes Calabro different from other brands. “Ricotta” comes from the Italian word recoquere or “to cook again.” Italian cheese makers hated wasting food, so they would re-cook the whey (that is, the liquid) leftover from cheese making, forming ricotta. What Calabro does that is different from most companies is that instead of using whey, they cook whole milk for a creamier, fluffier cheese that is devoid of the graininess that you sometimes find in ricotta. They also skip on fillers, binders and preservatives – there is no whey, no carrageenan or anything else in their ricotta. How do you know when your ricotta has a lot of fillers? As Morena explained, the best test is when you make lasagna. If you’ve made your lasagna with a ricotta containing fillers, you will find a fair amount of water at the bottom of your tray. For the diet-conscious who may love the taste of whole milk ricotta but are anxious about calories and fats, Calabro also makes both part skim and fat free ricottas. While all of these were great, there is no getting around the fact that the hand-dipped whole milk ricotta was the smoothest and creamiest that I have ever tasted. Want a dessert rich in calcium, lighter then ice cream and heavenly tasting? Try eating some chilled Calabro hand-dipped ricotta with fresh fruit (cherries, blueberries, strawberries, etc.) or honey (or both). It is divine.
We next moved on to the mozzarellas. The word mozzarella is derived from the Italian word mozzare, or “to cut finely.” Mozzarella is made when milk curds (that is, the solids in milk) are chopped into small pieces. Here’s where things started to get fancy: Morena started me off with a slice from a fior di latte ovaline mozzarella. Fior di latte, meaning “flower of the milk,” or fresh mozzarella, is the first mozzarella made from the freshest milk. “Ovaline” refers to the cheese’s egg shape. No salt is added to the cheese itself, and just a hint is added to the water in which it is packed. It makes for a very smooth, melt-in-your-mouth mozzarella. In addition to ovaline, Calabro also makes boccancini (“mouth-sized”) mozzarella and ciliegine (“cherry-sized”) mozzarella, all of which can either be served sliced or as they are with tomatoes and basil for a nice caprese salad, or melted on pizza (as Lombardi’s one of the oldest pizzerias in New York, likes to do).
From the fresh mozzarella I went on to try both the regular and smoked scamorze, (mozzarella that has been aged for at least 3 months), both of which are delicious as table cheeses (I love snacking on scamorze and crackers) but which have the added benefit of melting evenly (smoked scamorze has an especially nice smell when used with pizza or lasagna). Calabro differs from other manufacturers in that they smoke their mozzarella with natural smoke using fruitwood, rather than just adding liquid smoke to the product which often overwhelms the flavor of the cheese.
Calabro Cheeses are available in many shops throughout New York (including Brooklyn and Long Island):
Agata & Valentina
Dean & Deluca
Garden of Eden
Union Markets – Brooklyn, NY
Wild by Nature
For more information on the line of products that Calabro Cheese offers go to: http://www.calabrocheese.com/
Ready to serve up some delicious, cheesy, recipes for your summer barbecues and soirees?
Recipes courtesy Calabro Cheese
A great alternative dish to serve alongside traditional barbecue fare.
Butter leaf lettuce
Halved grape tomatoes
Fresh basil leaves
Fresh Calabro mozzarella
Lightly toast or grill the bread. Layer the butter leaf lettuce, cooked pancetta, grape tomato halves, basil leaves and fresh mozzarella, then drizzle with pesto and serve.
While you can serve this dip with fresh vegetables, chips or crackers, it is also delicious as a substitute for butter with Italian bread.
1 lb. Calabro ricotta
1 envelope onion or vegetable soup mix
Beat the ricotta first to make it smooth. Add soup mix and blend well. Chill and serve.
Mrs. Calabro’s Espresso Ricotta Cake
Serve this delicious and slightly exotic cake at your next summer get together. Note: If you want to avoid using your oven, as many do in the summer, you can purchase a pre-made graham cracker crust instead of making your own, as the rest of the cake is not baked.
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
½ cup butter or margarine at room temperature
1 ½ Tbsp. unflavored gelatin
3 Tbsp. cold water
½ cup granulated sugar
1 cup double-strength espresso coffee, brewed
2 lbs Calabro whole milk ricotta cheese
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup heavy or whipping cream
2 Tbsp. grated semi-sweet chocolate
1/8 tsp. ground cinnamon
Directions for crust: Heat oven to 400 degrees. Mix graham cracker crumbs with butter. Press mixture evenly over bottom taking up 2 to 2 ½ inches up sides of a buttered 9-inch springform pan. Bake 5 minutes. Remove from oven and place pan on a wire rack to cool completely.
Directions for filling: In a small saucepan, sprinkle gelatin over cold water and stir. Add sugar and espresso and stir 2 to 3 minutes over moderately low heat until liquid is almost boiling and gelatin is completely dissolved. Remove from heat and cool for about 5 minutes. In a large mixing bowl, beat ricotta and vanilla for 5 minutes at medium speed until very smooth. Slowly pour in cooled gelatin mixture; beat 3 minutes more.
In a medium bowl, whip cream until soft peaks hold when beater is lifted. With a rubber spatula, fold cream into ricotta mixture. Scrape into cooled crust. Cover and refrigerate 3 hours or up to 4 days. Before serving, remove sides of pan. Mix grated chocolate and cinnamon and sprinkle on top of cake.
Chocolate Flavored Ricotta
A simple and delicious dessert less likely to melt than ice cream at your next picnic.
1 lb. Calabro Ricotta
2 – 3 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp. Durkee Chocolate flavor
Sugar to taste (optional)
Beat ricotta smooth with mixer before adding other ingredients, then add other ingredients and mix until smooth. If there is not enough of a chocolate taste, add more chocolate. You can either just serve it or chill and serve.