HOW MANY of us take for granted the existence of ?queso de bola,? that beloved ball of cheese wrapped in red paraffin that no respectable Filipino home would be without on Christmas?
How many are aware that this ?queso de bola? is the only one of its kind in the world, custom-made for the Philippines through the decades?
An invitation from Willy Lambengco of Wilmington Imex, the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs Manila Chapter, cheese master Erik Boas and executive chef Gene Gonzalez of Café Ysabel uncovered volumes of interesting data unknown to most.
Over premium Dutch cheese samples flown in from Holland, wine and Gene?s special dinner, we chatted with Boas, also Friesland Campina?s sales export manager for Asia, and got our fill of ?cheesy? stories. It also helped that Erik was born and raised in Jakarta, where his father served as commercial training officer during the Dutch regime.
In 1898, while our country was waging a revolution against Spain, a quiet but also important revolution was beginning in the farmlands of Holland, with a small group of farmers forming a cooperative that, today, is the largest producer of dairy products in the world. It became the biggest after last January?s merger of two reigning dairy giants ? Royal Friesland from the north and Campina from the south, to be known as Royal Friesland Campina.
The story of the beginnings of the Marca Piña Queso de Bola is equally engaging. According to Lambengco, the name was apparently coined by Dr. Frederick Zuellig, a Swiss immigrant to the Philippines, who founded the Zuellig Pharmaceuticals in the early 1900s. The company?s food division began importing this mature cheese shipped in crates and with salt added as preservative in the long journey from the Netherlands to the Philippines in the late ?30s.
The Queso de Bola became so popular that it became regular fare during Christmas, served with ham, ?pan de sal? or ?ensaymada? and ?tsokolate.?
When Zuellig dissolved its food division to concentrate on pharmaceuticals, the exportation from Holland continued with various merchants, notably Chinese, distributing the product until the current Wilmington group took over in 2001.
Boas says his company produces the Marca Piña Queso de Bola only for the Philippines, as it is especially made for the Filipino palate: around 250 million kgs are exported to the Philippines each year ? a drop, really, in the bucket of a company of 70,000 member farmers producing 11.7 billion kilograms of dairy products.
Marca Piña, Boas says, can only be made from winter milk, ?meaning from cows who stay inside during the winter months, because if we use the milk of summer, the cheese will collapse.?
?It has a 24-week maturity and 3.8 salt content, which is unique and only sold here in the Philippines. Even ?balikbayans? buy here to bring back abroad. The Dutch no longer have the salted cheese to make the long trip since they now have refrigeration.?
In 2000, Frico decided to bring in other brands in response to several requests, including other types of cheese for children. Now available in Philippine supermarkets are the Baby Marca Piña, Edam, Gouda, Maasdam, Edam with additives like herbs and red pepper and Chevrette from goat?s milk. It is also launching a whole cheese series called Dutch Masters, after the Dutch painters like Van Gogh and Rembrandt.
With spicy Spanish red wine Shiraz Monastrell as suggested by chef Gene, Erik and I sampled the six-week-old Maasdam with the large holes and a sweet nutty taste; the six-week-old Chevrette, which has a stronger smell; the 12-week-old mature Gouda and the five-to-six-week-old Edam with red pepper.
Gene whipped up dinner inspired by these types of cheese ? roasted tomato soup with ?piadinas? topped with watercress and arugula salad; seared supreme of lightly smoked chicken stuffed with herb goat cheese with balsamic syrup and served with homemade squash tagliatelle as main course; and dessert of ice bombes of berry, vanilla and caramel.
Among the things we learned during this cheese-tasting dinner, mostly courtesy of Erik: Never freeze cheese, otherwise it will collapse when taken out. Table cheese is brought to maturity from four weeks to two years old. Cheese comes mostly from cow?s milk, followed by goat?s and sheep?s milk.
Some recipes from Frico
Asian-inspired Gratin of Tiger Chili Prawns with Frico Red Hot Dutch Cheese
This cheesy, chili gratin, made with Frico Red Hot Dutch Cheese, makes a perfect spicy starter. The delicate spice of the red peppers in the cheese tastes delicious with the prawns:
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 10 minutes
250g raw tiger prawns, shelled
1 pc lime, for juice
1 tbsp. oil
1 pc red onion, sliced
1 clove garlic, crushed
125g Frico Red Hot Dutch, grated
300ml crème fraîche
Few drops of Tabasco sauce
1. Remove the black thread from the prawns, then place in a bowl and pour over the lime juice.
2. Heat the oil in a frying pan and cook the onion and garlic over moderate heat for 3-4 minutes until softened.
3. Drain the lime juice from the prawns and divide the prawns between four small gratin dishes. Season well. In a bowl, mix together the grated Frico Red Hot Dutch Cheese, Tabasco sauce and crème fraîche, then spoon this mixture over the prawns.
4. Place the dishes on a baking tray and cook under a preheated moderate-heat frill for 5-6 minutes until golden and bubbling. Prawns have to be cooked through and must have turned pink.
Wine suggestion: Chardonnay, France
Indian Naan Bread Pizzas with Frico Mild Gouda Cheese
These pizzas are so quick and easy to prepare. The creamy, smooth texture of Frico Mild Gouda Cheese is perfect for pizza topping. Serve with salad for a delicious meal.
Preparation time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 10 minutes
2 x 150g plain naan bread
4 tbsp. mango chutney
125g cooked Tandoori chicken in strips
1 small red pepper, deseeded and sliced
100g Frico Mild Gouda Cheese, grated
2 tbsp. freshly chopped coriander
Salad to serve
How to make your own Tandoori chicken:
Marinate chicken breasts in Tandoori curry paste mixed with yogurt and some lemon juice. Cook under a hot grill until lightly charred and cooked through.
1. Preheat oven to 100?C, gas mark 6.
2. Place the slices of naan bread on a large baking tray and spread with the large mango chutney.
3. Arrange the chicken and pepper over the top of each slice of naan bread and sprinkle over the Frico Mild Gouda Cheese. Bake for 8-10 minutes until the cheese has melted.
4. Sprinkle with the coriander and serve immediately.
Wine suggestion: Cabernet Sauvignon, Italy or Chile