Queijo de Coalho
Queijo coalho means “curd cheese,” an important product of the eastern Brazilian state of Ceará that is featured in many local dishes. In particular, queijo coalho made from raw milk can be found in the regions of the Jaguaribe Valley, Sertão Central and Inhamuns. The flavor, color and texture of the Coalho Cheese produced in Ceará depends on time of aging. The most common form of consumption is fresh, where texture is more soft and moist, with soft shades of yellow. Relatively rare to find, but also appreciated the cheeses are aged for many days or months. In this case they have stronger flavor, dry and harder to cut and more yellow color. Whether fresh or aged, coalho cheese is part of local food practices in various meals of the day, including in desserts, combined with guava paste or roasted and covered in molasses. Another popular preparation is broiled or barbecued cheese, served on its own or sprinkled with oregano.
Currently, this artisanal cheese is facing modification of the traditional preparation method aligning towards health requirements of the government. For example, a switch to industrial rennet on the part of some producers can be traced back to the technical guidance provided by the state government. However, if misused, an overuse of industrial rennet can actually be more harmful to consumers, as opposed to an overuse of natural rennet. Others are beginning to use industrial rennet as a matter of convenience and cost, despite changes to the flavor of the coalho cheese. Other producers have begun pasteurizing their milk with the goal of reaching the sanitary standards required by Brazilian authorities for official sales.
In Ceará, coalho cheese is consumed mainly still fresh, on the same day of its preparation or the day after, as demand for the product has cut down the traditional aging time. Furthermore, medical guidelines widely disseminated by the media suggest that lighter colored (white) and less salty cheese is healthier, which can be considered as a factor that has led to the disappearance of aged coalho cheese aged, used nowadays just for grating. With the end of the matured product, the use of wood shelves is also disappearing. Both in dairies as well as supermarkets and specialty shops, the shelves were important to present the cheese. In current times, however, they are being replaced by refrigerators. Also, it should be emphasized, all the wooden instruments used during the production process (such as tables, molds and presses) are gradually being replaced by structures of stainless steel and plastic.
The imposition of sanitary standards that seem displaced from traditional production and local consumption of coalho cheese in Ceará, founded on centuries of knowledge and daily production, ultimately can put the related people in situation of illegality. The imposition of pasteurized milk and other changes creates an invisible, illegal market as a strategy to safeguard the characteristics of traditional product that safeguarding original taste. This informal market is quite strong and it is common to find people buying cheese on sidewalks, from street vendors, or in small stores that also sell product from dairies in the state, because small farmers cannot sell their raw milk cheese to supermarkets. As most production is informal, it is unknown how many producers there are and how much cheese is produced annually.