2012 American Cheese Month 31 Cheeses in 31 Days: Day One: Hoja Santa
Cheese: Hoja Santa
Who: Paula Lambert & The Mozzarella Company
Where: Dallas, Texas
Milk Type: goat, pasteurized
Rind: leaf wrapped
Shape: small bundle, 2 ½ x1 ½ inches, 5oz
Flavor: The paste alone is very fresh, like stream water; sweet cream ice cream and citric.
I was introduced to Paula Lambert’s wonderful little, fudgy dollop of fresh goat cheese, Hoja Santa at the Cheese School of San Francisco. I knew it would be a must-have for my American Cheese Month’s review of 31 cheeses in 31 days.
First impressions are, well… it’s beautiful.
Tightly wrapped in green.
And then there’s the aroma: sassafras, green herb, almost minty.
Minus the leafy wrapping, the fudgy paste is immediately fresh-tasting, like mountain spring water. There’s simply nothing but freshness here. Like a light, sweet cream ice cream, the flavor of the milk is transparent and unchanged. It’s citric, with just a hint of lemon but the acidity is a very present trait.
But, there really is, nor should you even think about eating this cheese “minus” the leaf. Unlike old-world European cheeses wrapped in chestnut leaves or the like, with Hoja Santa, the leaf is a critical and immutable truth to both the beauty and flavor of this cheese.
Hoja Santa is technically an herb native to Mexico, but now grow commonly in the American South and Southwest. Cheesemaker Paula Lambert was inspired when she saw how Chef Patricia Quintana in Mexico City used then to wrap fish and poultry, steamed in a fire pit. Read here about one community garden in Los Angeles the Proyecto Jardín Community Garden in Boyle Heights, who routinely harvests the leaves. One interesting note from that article:
Hoja Santa, botanical name Piper auritum, is high in safrole, an essential oil that is used in the manufacture of the drug Ecstasy. One encyclopedia of herbs does not recommend using the plant for food, but the plant has been eaten for centuries from Mexico to Venezuela. It is legal to grow and has no mood-altering effects.
Thankfully, with this cheese, the only ecstasy is in the flavor.
The taste of the leaf is a bit like mint but it’s most like sassafras. First impression is of root beer. Yes, combined with the creamy cheese, Hoja Santa is the Root Beer Float of American artisan cheese!
Pair it with light whites, perhaps on the sweeter side to balance the acidity of the cheese. Murray’s in New York recommends a white wheat beer. The lemon notes of the cheese might make an interesting match with a pint of Boulevard from Kansas City.