When I think of cheese made in the Philippines, I can only come up with kesong puti. Square white blocks of very soft, slightly salty cheese, made from unskimmed carabao’s milk, usually wrapped in banana leaves, and often eaten at breakfast sandwiched in hot pan de sal. Is that it? Is that all the cheese we make, I wondered?
At the recently-held March gathering of the Cheese Club of the Philippines, I was delighted to find that it spotlighted and paid tribute to our local cheeses. And one of the cheesemakers featured was Olive Puentespina’s Malagos Farmhouse Artisanal cheeses. In the past few years, fine locally-made cheeses have been finding their way to our plates — at our neighborhood Saturday Market, at the Wine Depot, in Rustan’s supermarkets, and in some restaurants like Chef Cyrille Soenen’s Brasserie CiÇou. They were from the Malagos Farmhouse Artisanal Cheeses of Davao. My favorite was their ricotta drizzled with a little truffle honey, which harmonized divinely with my sparkling rosé. There were also superb French-style goat cheeses created by The Goatary of Negros Oriental. The goats bred and raised here come from the Anglo-Nubian milking stock recognized worldwide for their high-quality high butterfat content and creamy flavor. Then there was that velvety and delicious fresh mozzarella from Bacolod created by the international cheesemaker Casa del Formaggio. (I want!!! Where do I buy this, I wondered?)
It is certainly wonderful to see that traditional, artisanal cheese-making is now making inroads in our country and we can now enjoy a range of fine Philippine-made cheeses beyond our customary Kesong Puti. That evening was definitely an eye-opening and palate-pleasing affair.