This one's an oldie but a goodie. It's a cheese that's been around for nearly 20 years, but for no good reason, remains relatively unknown. It's delicious, and unique, too. It looks just about as unlike as any other cheese around, and its flavor—sharp, nearly sour, yet creamy—makes a statement, as well.
Maybe one day it won't need an introduction, but until then, allow me to humbly present Pata Cabra.
First and foremost, this cheese tastes straight-up good. It had fallen off of my radar until just last weekend, when a friend served it at a dinner party. People started attacking the slab towards its middle, and by the end of cocktail hour, we were all scooping up the crumbly bits that remained on the board. Consider this your veritable warning: Pata Cabra isn't the most un-messy cheese at which to hack away. It's creamy as can be, yet totally totally shatter-able under the blade of a knife.
So texturally, Pata Cabra is pretty compelling. Its delicate structure is the first clue that should tip you off to its milk type: goat cheeses with a bit of age tend to be crumbly in a way that sheep and cow milk cheeses just aren't. Think about classic aged French goat cheeses like Chevrot or Chabichou; you'll often hear them described as "chalky." Pata Cabra is no different.
It tastes of sour milk, in a that delightfully cheesy kind of way. The paste is slightly tangy and lingers on the tongue. We drank it with a really nice, full-bodied California Chardonnay, which offered pretty delicious contrast to the bright notes of the cheese. This makes a perfect pre-dinner selection, because it is light and most definitely not cloying. It tickles the taste buds.
What's especially cool about this cheese, other than its taste (which is the quality that should always come first) is its backstory. The cheese is made by a single producer, Julian Cidraque, in the Northeast region of Aragon, Spain. I love a cheese that's still an original recipe, made by one person. It's infinitely more and more tricky to find imported cheeses like this.
The shape of the cheese is quite un-wheel-like. Its 5-pound heft resembles more the shape of a squat, rounded-off brick than a piece of cheese. Indeed, its name means "goat leg" in Spanish. When cut into pieces, you'll receive a nice oval slab, which will most definitely set itself apart from other cheeses on a platter. Never underestimate the power of aesthetic variation.
Also interesting is that Pata Cabra is a washed rind cheese. It's already atypical for a goat cheese to be washed—though more and more, new styles of goat cheeses are emerging with washed rinds—but I can't think of any washed Spanish goats. What you don't get is the typical stinky quality from the washing. The cheese is assertive, sure, but not in that (endearingly) smelly kind of way. There's nothing quite like this one, and it's worth seeking out. Here, here, for innovation.
Find it: Pata Cabra is $11.99/.5 lb at igourmet.com
Nora Singley used to be a cheesemonger and the Director of Education at Murray's Cheese Shop in New York City, where she continues to teach cheese classes for the public. She is currently a TV Chef on The Martha Stewart Show.
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(Images: Nora Singley)