Thursday, October 18, 2012

This Week's Cheese: Lionza 8/10

Fiscalini Farms, producer of one of America's best cheddars, introduced another compelling cow's milk cheese a couple of years ago.

Christened Lionza, after the ancestral village of the Fiscalini family in Switzerland's canton Ticino, the cheese is modeled after the alpine wheels of that region.John Fiscalini and Mariano Gonzalez, the Fiscalini cheesemaker, toured the area together a few years ago, and Fiscalini's cousin took the duo around to a number of dairies. Gonzalez, a cheesemaker with a long resume, was able to turn that experience into a new product that is, admittedly, not all that similar to the cheeses that inspired it but delicious in its own right.Made on the farm in Modesto with raw milk from Fiscalini's own herd,

Lionza qualifies as a farmstead cheese. Gonzalez currently shapes the wheels in the same forms used for traditional Gouda, which yield a wheel weighing about 27 pounds with rounded edges. But that will change. He is awaiting some new hoops that will produce a 20-pound wheel with straight sides, a format closer to the Swiss cheeses he admired.After five days in a brine bath, the young wheels move into a warm room, where they spend about 10 days. Workers flip them frequently and occasionally sponge them with more brine. During this stage, small eyes develop in the interior as proliferating bacteria produce carbon dioxide. Finally, the wheels head for the aging room, where they remain for six to eight months.Lionza has a thin, clean crust and a semifirm, butter-colored interior.

The aromas suggest warm butter or brown butter, with some nutty notes. The cheese is firm to the tooth, like al dente pasta, with a texture more moist than I would expect from such an aged wheel. It is neither granular nor crumbly nor creamy but somewhere in the center of that spectrum from moist to dry. The flavors are tangy but not piquant, with a sweet finish.