I just love cheese. I always have. It's one thing that I could never give up — but I have a sensitivity to cow's milk that just makes me feel awful when I eat it. Sheep's milk, though, is easier on the digestive system, and this Manchego cheese is very mild and similar to Parmesan, so it's a great alternative that's really easy to incorporate in so many different ways into so many different dishes. It's very versatile.
I have known about my sensitivity for eight years or so, but I only discovered this cheese three or four years ago. I went to my grocery store and I just tried every single kind of sheep and goat milk cheese that they had to offer, and this was my favorite.
My dad is full Italian, and I grew up with my full Italian grandma always making pizza fritte, the best apple pie on the planet, and just pasta and meatballs — all that really great stuff. Her apple pie recipe is actually in my cookbook. I cooked a lot with both of my parents while I was growing up, too, and my mom made dinner for us every night. I used to bake with my mom a lot too, and I always knew that that was the kind of mom that I wanted to be: I wanted to be the mom that cooked dinner for her children every night.
So, once I had kids, I really just started cooking all the time, and I wanted to cook healthy, but I wanted it to be good, too. I think there's a stigma that eating healthy means being boring and like you're missing out on stuff. I eat everything: I eat pasta, I eat cheese, I eat sweets. And that's why I like the sheep's milk Manchego cheese — it's so versatile, but also healthy.
I'm by no means a chef, I'm just a mom who likes to cook healthy. So, I worked with a private chef, Mike Kubiesa, in Chicago, who helped me with the cookbook — he gave me a ton of private lessons and I truly credit all of my food knowledge to him. He is a food genius, and he really helped me a lot, and helped elevate me as a cook.
One of my favorite ways to use the sheep's milk Manchego cheese is in the cookbook: It's a cashew ricotta cheese that I make a veal braciole with. While I don't use milk or cream — I make the ricotta with cashews — I do put some of this cheese in there, and it gives it a great flavor. It's so good, I could eat the ricotta with a spoon.
My kids and husband also enjoy it — they eat the same way I do, so the cookbook is a very good representation of how my family eats on a daily basis. I frequently make most of the recipes for them, and they love it.