Back in April, a friend gave me a bag of lemons from her family tree in Florida, and their bright floral bite sent me on a citrus binge. That’s how I came to Pantaleo, a firm Sardinian goat cheese that smells like lemon yogurt and tastes – in its youth – as delicate as the Madaleines that sent Proust into literary reverie. Pantaleo even dissolves into crumbly bits on the tongue, like a cookie.
Italian cheeses, I have learned, are transformative. They can make a person nostalgic, the way a postcard or a locket of hair opens up memory, flashes us back to a childhood garden or the lap of a warm-smelling aunt. Maybe it’s because Italian cheeses come from centuries-old recipes, passed down through generations. What we taste is history: old love letters, wrinkled hands, lemons on knotted stems.
For a taste of what I mean, try these aged Italian beauties together: real Parmigiano-Reggiano, Fiore Sardo, Pantaleo. Each one is unique, made from a different milk. Few aged goat cheeses come out of Italy, which makes Pantaleo an anomaly.
Eat it straight up, with a few olives or a little honey. This is the kind of cheese you set out before dinner or serve as an afternoon snack. You could also grate it over blanched asparagus or fold it into risotto. I’m a purist though. With cheese this good, why dilute the flavor?
I brought Pantaleo out to my stoop for a snack the other day, and before I knew it, my neighbors were sitting around me, nibbling and moaning and marveling. Like I say, it’s the kind of cheese that functions as a mild hallucinogenic, a reverie builder. It must be terroir – the “sense of place” that certain wines convey. Cheese, too, can translate soil, sunshine, earth – all through taste.
Amazingly, this is a pasteurized cheese – usually, I lean toward raw-milk wheels for depth of flavor. Pantaleo is complex, without any goaty tang. Look for notes of sea salt, herbs, lemon, cream cheese, and wildflowers.
Possible Pairings: Chardonnay or wheat beer, pears, pistachios, olives, honey, shaved fennel, rosemary bread.
For more summer cheese ideas, visit Madame Fromage