Monday, January 11, 2010

Pecorino Fiore Sardo

Pecora is the Italian word for sheep.  When you see a Pecorino from now on, you will automatically know that it is made from sheep's milk.  They are some of my favorite cheeses of all time!  I haven't met too many that I don't like.  The Italians really have a handle on them too.  I love the nutty, salty, tangy notes of Pecorino followed by that melt-in-your-mouth buttery flavor on the finish.  You might be surprised to learn that sheep's milk has the highest butterfat content of the three milks (cow, sheep, and goat) commonly used to make cheese which accounts for that buttery flavor.  The aged examples that I've had are some of the most profoundly delicious and complex cheeses that I have eaten.  I could wax on poetically for hours, but I'd like to let you know about one in particular that I've enjoyed recently called Pecorino Fiore Sardo.

You might guess from the name that it comes from Sardinia and you would be absolutely correct.  Sheep are some of the only domesticated animals that can survive in the rocky terrain on the island off the coast of Italy.  Cows are far too fussy requiring lots of fresh green grass. There is even a special breed of sheep that is commonly raised there that has long hair.  Mostly, just the milk is used, but their special coats are valued for making rugs and textiles.  The milk is distinctive and makes some pretty fantastic cheese, Pecorino Fiore Sardo being one.

Traditionally the cheese-making process would have begun with the use of a thistle rennet, hence the name - fiore meaning flower.  I imagine shepherds liked this technique and valued it because it kept them from having to kill baby sheep to get the rennet.  Nowadays, it is made traditionally but the name remains. The paste has a semi-firm doughy quality to it that I find so completely different from most other Pecorinos that I've had.  I also love it's sharp tangy bite followed by a flood of creamy buttery flavors on the finish.  Interestingly enough, it has a fresh fruity pineapple flavor that is incredibly appealing, and also fools you into thinking that you're eating something light.

In general, the best Italian cheeses that I have eaten have come from Luigi Guffanti.  It's a company that started around 1900 when the patriarch of the family began producing great Gorgonzola.  They distribute and age a good variety of cheeses from all over Italy, and everything I've had with the Guffanti name on it has been tasty.  Apart from the Pecorinos, there are some pretty interesting cheeses available through them from the Veneto and Alto Adige regions. Check out Brescianella Aquavitae, washed with grappa and rolled in buckwheat, from Guffanti if you can find it for a weird and pungent treat sometime.  It's the most unique cheese I've ever had and is a good example of some of the more unusual things that they export.

In the meantime, Pecorino Fiore Sardo from Luigi Guffanti is sure to deliver an amazing gourmet experience.  I wish I were eating some now as I write these lines. I'd love to have it drizzled with some honey and a glass of fabulous Vin Santo.  What a treat that would be!

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