Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Brazil's Basic Cheese - Queijo Coalho

Queijo coalho (Rennet Cheese) is to Brazil what Cheddar cheese is to England, or feta to Greece, or gouda to The Netherlands - it's the cheese that pops into mind when thinking about that particular country's cheeses. This cheese is made artisanally and industrially all around Brazil, and is eaten from one end of the country to the other. It has a number of variations ranging from soft and creamy fresh queijo coalho right up to sharply acidic and pungent aged varieties.

Even though queijo coalho is eaten everywhere in Brazil, it is associated in most people's minds with the northeastern region of the country, and it's there where the most traditional and artisanal methods of production still flourish. In cheese shops in metropolitan areas, in small mom-and-pop grocery stores in villages, and in roadside stands along country roads of the northeast, you'll find farm-fresh homemade queijo coalho for sale.

Queijo coalho is an essential ingredient in many traditional dishes, like the rice-and-bean combination Baião de Dois or the Brazilian version of shepherd's pie, arrumadinho. Because queijo coalho does not melt when exposed to heat, as most cheeses do, it can be grilled or fried. Grilled queijo coalho is a favorite snack for Brazilian beachgoers, who buy pieces of hot grill cheese on a stick from numerous ambulant vendors who pass by offering their wares. In restaurants, grilled queijo coalho is often served as a first course, accompanied by honey or molasses. The hot salty flavors of the cheese combine beautifully with the thick sweetness of the honey or molasses.

In the next post on Flavors of Brazil, we'll give you instructions on how to make your own queijo coalho at home. It's very simple, and doesn't really require any special skills or equipment. Once you've made it, you'll have the opportunity to see how changes in density, aging time, storage temperature and other factors can result in startling different taste experiences from one simple cheese.

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