The cheesemonger who sold me the chunk of Foglie Bergere from Northland Sheep Dairy assured it would be just the ticket if I was looking for an intensely flavored sheep cheese, for which I actually wasn't. At the time. "It just tastes like pure sheep," he encouraged. More intriguing than convincing as a sales pitch, I went for it nonetheless.
Taste like pure sheep it does not, I found. (But of course don't forget everyone experiences taste individually.) Lanoline - or "sheepy" - flavors there were, but they were well balanced with undertones of hazelnuts and nearly-burnt toast. This is an austere cheese, not sweet and nutty like a mountain cheese, but with an earthy intensity and notes of straw and hay more often associated with cow's milk cheeses.
The end result was a supremely nuanced cheese with a distinct flavor spectrum. As a taster, each impression of the cheese was different from the next. And a long, multi-layered finish to boot, pairable with anything from a sweet plum jam to a dry Riesling.
At first evaluation, the Foglie Bergere is reminiscent texture-wise of a classic aged pecorino Toscano. With a crystalline crunch through and through, it actually resembles more closely a Parmigiano Reggiano.
Lucky is the cheese lover who unknowingly stumbles upon a cheese with as unique a texture as this. The crunchy bits of amino acid clusters, called tyrosine, are practically pin-pointable, and are by far the largest I've come across in a cheese. Conceived by Karl and Jane North in Freetown Corners, New York, this find is ultimately unlike any Italian cheese. It's entirely ewe.
Foglie Bergere is available at Stinky Brooklyn for $8.00 per 1/4 pound.
• Northland Sheep Dairy