Sicilian Canestrato is a True Delicacy
On a recent trip to visit cheese makers in Sicily I realized quite soon that what I found in the local markets was not the international array of cheeses but primarily cheese being made in the mountains and valleys surrounding these markets. A perfect example of what many "Locavores" aspire to achieve but in Sicily has been the way of life for centuries now. The dominant cheese was the "Basket Cheese" made in the countryside from ewes milk but also from goat and cows milk in some areas. The farm I visited in the mountains east of Palermo had 600 ewes milked twice a day by the cheese maker and his 3 helpers. Believe me this is no small undertaking with 7 days a week, 365 days, year after year.
The name for these wonderful looking 'Canestrati' derives from the fact that they are made by being pressed into a 'Canestri' (Italian word for wicker basket) and the pattern, will show on the cheese itself.
The Sicilian Canestrato is a true delicacy, it is considered among the most valuable cheeses in the Italian casearia, or dairy, tradition. Canestrato cheese is traditionally produced by small farms that breed specific types of sheep and cows in order to confer to the cheese a particular and refined flavor.
A thick outer rind leads to the superficial striations left from the traditional wicker basket where the curd is set. The flavor is sweet and delicate and tends toward slight tanginess when fresh, its customary form when consumed as a table cheese.
The 'Pepato' variation with added peppers is quite spicy.