I hate to sound bourgeoisie, but there’s something lovely about lunching on the terrace on a beautiful day. Especially with a glass of sangria and some pretty little bits to eat.
I was in bit of a sulk the other day, a random day The Man and I had off work together, and he was trying to coddle my irrational female moods. So he gave up his need for Sachels pizza and took me downtown to find a patio to sit on. I like the area because you can park and walk to any number of interesting places, even though the streets are mostly brick and my heels get trapped often.
We’ve always tried to like Emiliano’s Cafe more than we actually do. It’s a typical Downtown Gainesville restaurant–old building, interesting menu, full bar, live music occasionally. But to be quite honest, it feels somewhat like an elegant woman that has been letting herself go for a few years now. The intention is still there, but there’s a lack of the magic that gives something its personality.
My sangria tasted out of a box, the salad was out of a bag, and The Man’s fish sandwich looked better in the picture I took than it tasted going down. Nothing was outright bad, but it just wasn’t remarkably good. Nothing I would openly recommend to friends.
On the other hand, we were always fond of their cheese plate, and although it wasn’t on the lunch menu, the waitress passed our request to the kitchen, which was happy to do up a plate for us. The Man and I are of the belief “You don’t ask, you don’t get.”
(Stop talking and tell me about the cheese!) Okay!
So there was the usual fruits–apple, grapes, mango–and walnuts and slivered almonds, as well as some fairly crisp crostinis (ask for it without the mean to avoid prosciutto or seranno ham). I couldn’t even tell you what the third cheese was–some sort of cow’s milk thing, medium-soft, non-offensive, somewhat sweet and mild. A pure white color like vintage milk glass. Yes, I will try to find out what it was eventually.
Then there as a wedge of Manchego, a Spanish sheep’s milk cheese (Manchega sheep, don’t you know), made in La Mancha. Land of Don Quixote. It is a somewhat dense, oily cheese with a gorgeous nutty, salty flavor. The rind is usually a dark basket-weave pattern that is easily recognizable, and the body is a glowing off-white color. Manchego cheese is cave-aged for 2 months or more, and if you’re in the shops, look for a 12 month cheese since it gets nuttier and richer with age.
The main cheese on the plate as far as either of us were concerned was similar to the Manchego, but the rind was crusted with rosemary and olive oil. The flavor permeated the whole body of the cheese. It turned out it was actually in the same family as Manchego, the sheep’s milk from La Mancha family. But this style is called Romao Queso al Romero. It’s described as “rubbed with rosemary and olive oil”, but the rosemary is pressed into the rind and packed tightly. (Some makers use lard instead of olive oil, so keep an eye on this is you want to avoid lard.)
A rosemary rind looks quite pretty on the plate. Don’t think of it as decoration though. The mild nutty Manchego style (this one probably aged from 3 to 9 months) is elevated by adding rosemary’s earthy, wild flavors. This is not a timid cheese, and should be paired with something equally strong and earthy. I loved the walnuts with it, but the fruit on the plate was too mild or sweet. I would eat this with pesto on a sesame cracker, some strong green olives (Castelvetrano!), or with a glass of Spanish tempranillo wine. This cheese has such a beautiful flavor curve that it doesn’t need any other food to enhance it.
Despite the ho-hum meal, the weather was great (for an inland Florida July), the cheese was fantastic. And of course it was nice to have the day off with The Man. He might tell a different version of the story since he had to tolerate me being an irrational, moody female.
Manchego Sheep’s Cheese
Approx $20-40 per lb.
Romao Queso al Romero
Approx $16-26 per pound
7 SE 1st Ave
Gainesville, FL 32601
:: Cheese Plate (tapas menu) – $12