When it comes time for a cheese maker to name his creation, many producers opt to apply a moniker than evokes intrigue: Humboldt Fog, Tuma Persa (Lost Cheese), Pont l’Eveque (the Bishop’s Bridge), Le Clandestin. All are outstanding cheeses with less than descriptive titles. Other producers pay homage to the town or province where the cheese is made with names such as Tomme de Savoie, Pecorino di Pienza or New York Cheddar. And finally there are cheeses that lay themselves bare and blatantly announce what they are. Of these, there are labels that induce salivation such as Testun al Barolo, and some that spark guarded hesitation. Espresso Cheddar? What is that, the cheese for people who prefer to eat their café au lâit?
Of all the digestive delights the culinary world has to offer, few can offer a guarantee of quality like the truffle. For this reason, the collaborative known as Il Forteto chose to name their truffle cheese Cacio al Tartufo. “Cacio” derived from the Spanish “Queso” during the Spanish occupation of Sicily from 1492-1700. Hence, quite literally, this cheese with truffles is called “Cheese with Truffles.”
Certain producers opt to add extraneous flavors to their cheese to mask imperfections in the quality of the milk or the ability of the maker. That is not the case here. Along with Sardinia and the French Basque, Tuscany ranks in the top three regions in the world in terms of quality of sheep milk. The lush, floral and herbaceous pastures naturally provide the perfect combination of flavors resulting in exceptional Pecorino cheeses.
Like Fiore Sardo, a smoked Sardinian cheese which was discussed in a previous article, Cacio al Tartufo is assuredly a quality cheese before steps are taken to add flavor. It does not taste like truffle-flavored hardened milk. There are hints of garlic, green olives and the wild herbs that distinguish Tuscan pecorino from its imitators. The truffle does not overwhelm these undertones, nor does it get lost in the mix. It achieves a harmonious balance.
The uses for this cheese are as vast as one’s imagination. Classically, it would be shredded into pasta or risotto, shaved atop grilled radicchio, fennel or asparagus, or diced into a Tuscan bean and arugula salad or soup. Furthermore, it can be shaved thin or shredded and then fried in to a crisp like Parmigiano Reggiano or, for the risk takers, used to create a truffle iced cream. Like most pecorino, we enjoy it strait with a dab of honey, a glass of wine and some close friends.