Schiz Cheese Info
Schiz from the Mountains of Northern Italy
I think I have finally found a cheese that few of our cheese makers have ever heard of. As many of you may already know, I love all things Italian, even though my background is Welsh and Irish, go figure.
I do belong to a "Circollo Italiano" group in the valley where we live and one of my friends from this group has been after me for years to make this particular cheese for him since it is from his family home in Northern Italy. After some time researching this, I soon found out that it's not just a cheese but a meal as well as a lifestyle.
The History of Schiz Cheese
This month's cheese comes from the eastern area of the Dolomite mountains, centered around the town of Belluno in Northern Italy. This has been an area with a rough history of invasions, wars, and folks needing to make do with very little - so, this cheese was born of their resourcefulness. Today, in spite of improved economic times, there is still a grand effort in this region to preserve the tradition of simple good food such as this.
Schiz was traditionally a part of a cheese destined for market that was set aside to feed the dairy folks on the mountain. When the curd was closed in the molds and pressed, the surplus curd would squeeze out, so it was cut away and carefully collected. This surplus curd, referred to as ‘Schiz,’ was cut into strips and fried in a pan. It was a humble but very nutritious meal for these people from the Alpine pastures. The cheese would not keep well and sensibility called for it to be eaten quickly, so into the frying pan for lunch it went.
Fried with a bit of butter and cream this cheese holds up to the fire quite well and to this day is one of the favorite traditional cheeses of this area. It is normally accompanied by their local Polenta.
What is Schiz Cheese
Schiz is made from whole or semi-skimmed cow's milk cheese and is produced in the province of Belluno. It has a very traditional history and is usually prepared by cooking in a pan with butter, salt, and some added cream. The name was probably suggested by its sizzling sound (in Italian that's schizza) during cooking as it's moisture is released.
The cheese is rindless, soft, semi-cooked, and is lightly pressed into square molds. This cheese is salted only at the time of consumption. It has a compact body, elastic texture and retains the flavor of sweet milk.
Now, you will notice no mention of bacteria culture in this guide, which makes this cheese very unique. From a process point of view, this means that none of the lactose in the milk is converted to lactic acid, so the final cheese will retain it's sweetness.
This will affect the cheese in a few ways:
- Since no lactic acid production takes place to cause moisture to flow from the curds, the cheese will retain a much higher moisture. The lack of acid will also give a much more elastic texture to the cheese.
- This cheese will hold up to the fire, it will soften but not melt and the residual milk sugars will caramelize and produce that wonderful rich flavor.
- The cheese must be consumed fresh because even at refrigeration temps the milk sugars will be good subjects for any ambient bacteria to feed on, causing the cheese to become sour in a matter of 6-10 days resulting in off flavors and smell. My friend from Belluno says that in his home town they would need to place an order with the dairy to pick up the cheese the next morning to get the freshest cheese possible for their meal.
Another interesting point is that no salt is added to the cheese during the cheese making. Since this normally is added to slow/stop the bacteria and causes more whey to be expelled, this will add to the final high moisture in the cheese and the need to use it quickly.