Cheesemaker Leaves No Leaf Unturned

Paula Lambert's on the hunt for hoja santa leaves.

Lambert's Mozzarella Company has nearly run out of the leaves it uses to wrap its hoja santa goat cheese, a perennial award winner that took a second place prize in the American Cheese Society's annual competition this summer.

"We hate it, but the leaves are about to end," says Lambert.

Lambert typically buys leaves from a grower in Dallas and Generation Farms in Rice, but the cheese-maker this year depleted their supply. Lambert said weather conditions had conspired to shrink the hoja leaf harvest.

The leaves of hoja santa, also known as "the root beer plant" and Mexican peppercorn, were used primarily in Central and South American cooking until Lambert got her hands on them. The herb -- sometimes compared to Mexican tarragon or Thai basil -- has a peculiar eucalyptus tang: While some mole makers use a few torn leaves in their sauces, the leaves are more commonly used as wrappers.

"In Mexico, they wrap chicken and fish in them," Lambert says.

Lambert credits the hoja santa in her 1980s garden with inspiring her cheese recipe, but the plant's not popular with all local gardeners, largely because it's hard to control. Lambert's posted a Facebook message soliciting homegrown hoja santa, but says she hasn't been offered any leaves yet.

"I haven't found a single new source for it," Lambert says.

Hoja santa can't survive frost, so the Mozzarella Company doesn't have much time to track down fresh leaves before the season ends.

"We'll just run out," Lambert says sadly.

Unless, of course, you have hoja leaves to spare.

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