In recent years, Primadonna has reached a level of popularity that few could have anticipated. While I would not put Primadonna in the upper echelon of cheeses, it is easy to see why everyone likes it: it is very tasty, rather affordable and, perhaps most importantly, has a catch-y name. But in the last several months, more and more Primadonna lovers have been asking us what else they might enjoy. Please allow me to offer some suggestions.
The most obvious answer is any of the older Goudas. I suppose now is an appropriate time to verify that despite the Italian name, Primadonna is, in fact, Dutch and in the Gouda family. At DiBruno’s, we offer a three-, six– and ten-year old Gouda. They are each similar to Primadonna, but amplified. The most popular is easily the six-year old, which has the firm-yet-creamy texture of the three-year with the sweet, almost butterscotch flavor of the 10-year. Personally, I prefer the most aged, which is drier but sweeter and crunchier. Satisfied customers have shared recipes that incorporate the 10-year Gouda: simply diced with figs, shaved thin for crostini, and even grated on top of vanilla ice cream. Given its texture and assertive flavor, it is surprisingly versatile.
If your favorite aspect of Primadonna is the casein (frequently called flavor or salt crystals), we have many options to tingle your taste buds. One of my favorites is Pecorino Grand Cru, an aged sheep’s milk cheese from Sardinia made in a 40lb wheel. Throughout its maturation, it is washed in olive oil to prevent it from getting too sharp and to help keep it moist. As it is aged nearly two years, it has approximately the same amount of casein as Primadonna.
Another cheese you are guaranteed to love is Ewephoria. Essentially a sheep’s milk Gouda, the sheep that lend their milk to this cheese are the only animals permitted to graze in a nature reserve in Holland. The owner confesses that the animals eat better than her children. The result is a cheese that is simultaneously earthy, clean and sweet. Full of casein, it has that texture that Primadonna lovers adore.
If you ask a cheese monger what he thinks makes for a great cheese, you might hear him extol the virtues of terroir. The closest translation in English would be “terrain,” although terroir would be defined as everything from the weather and how it effects the soil, and how that effects the grass and herbs that the animals eat, and how that effects the milk and therefore the cheese. A world-class cheese is truly from the earth, and the top cheese makers would admit that their own ability ranks fourth or fifth on the list of important factors that make their cheese great. Typically, terroir is most apparent in younger cheeses, but for the Primadonna fan, here are a couple of hard cheeses that accurately depict their heritage. Pecorino di Grotto, from Emilio-Romagna, reflects terroir in several ways. The milk is rich, which makes the texture creamy and the taste relatively mild. It is then aged in caves that are full of sulfur, which gives a mineralistic quality to the cheese. Most of our customers who have been to this region say that they can taste and smell the area in the cheese. One of my personal favorites is Pantaleo. This is an aged goat’s milk cheese from Sardinia, an island that receives a lot of sun and is therefore well endowed with herbs. This is obvious in the cheese, which has an undercurrent of black pepper, but has noticeable hints of thyme and sea salt. Truly delightful, even to the person who has never before enjoyed goat’s milk cheese.
It is my sincere hope that you enjoy some of these suggestions. Please post comments about these or other cheeses you have enjoyed in lieu of Primadonna, and feel free to ask us for suggestions on other cheeses.
– Hunter, 9th Street Cheese Specialist