Claudio’s, a small specialty shop nestled in Philadelphia’s Italian Market, is one of my all-time favorite spots. The shop has been open for over 50 years serving meats, cheese, olives, pasta, and other imported goods. It’s one of those places you go and feel the old world preserved. The employees who work there were born and raised right down the street. They can recount for you how their mothers used to send them down for a half pound of fresh mozzarella, and now they’re keeping the tradition alive by running the place themselves.
My favorite part about Claudio’s though is the cheese. They’re selection is out of this world. Gourmet cheeses of every kind – Italian, French…fresh, aged…sheep, goat….
It’s become my go-to place for cheese experimentation. I’ve tried everything from Bulgarian Feta to smoked cheddar – each inspiring me with a new recipe idea. After much sampling, here is some ingredient inspiration with my favorite, and some of the most novel cheeses, that I’ve discovered at Claudio’s.
(from left to right: Beemster, Vento D’Estate, Crucola, and Testun Occelli al Barolo)
Beemster is my absolute favorite cheese that’s I’ve discovered at Claudio’s. It’s a bright orange, 3-year aged cow’s milk cheese that originated in Holland. Its texture is delicate –its flavor sharp and nutty.
I love it on its own, or thrown into a gourmet grilled cheese – think pressed foccacia bread with thin apple slices and mixed greens.
This cheese is the most unique thing I’ve ever tasted. It’s an Italian cheese made from sheep’s milk. In the aging process they actually cover it with hand-picked hay, and place it in wooden barrels. The idea came from a famer who, many years ago, was driving his cart filled with cheese down a country road when hay from the buggie in front of him started to blow off. He sniffed the air, and wondered why, if the scent was so pleasant in the air, couldn’t it be pleasant combined with his cheese. So he wrapped the cheese in the nicest hay he could find, and thus Vento D’Estate (literally meaning summer wind) was born. The hay gives it a pungent earthy flavor unlike any other cheese I’ve ever had.
I can see this cheese being great in a spanokopita-type dish because of its strong earthy flavor.
Crucola is a cow’s milk cheese originating from the Italian Alps. The flavor is mild with a slight hint of swiss. The swiss cheese flavor is ever so slight, so if you’re not a fan of swiss (like myself) you may still like it.
This is the perfect cheese to add into morning eggs for a twist on the old cheddar.
Testun Occelli al Barolo
You got it, this beer is bathed in wine – Barolo wine. For the last few months of its 7-month aging process the cheese is infused with it. The blend of cow and goat’s milk picks up the fine flavor, and the outside forms a funny flaky texture of dried wine bits.
I imagine this one crumbled up in a salad with some nuts and grapes, but then again, this guy might go best with some crackers and a glass of…Barolo.
If any of you love cheese as much as I do, and you’re interested in trying them for yourself, you can order off of their website. I highly suggest getting all four, slicing up an apple, putting out some crackers, pouring some wine, inviting over some friends, and having a cheese party. It’s one of the simplest, pleasure-filled ways to pass an evening.
What’s your favorite cheese? What’s your favorite way to eat it?