Customarily, I finish a pasta or even a risotto with a generous grating of Pecorino Romano rather than Parmesan. I love the earthy dimension this cheese adds to these dishes. However, Romano, my simple grating cheese, is only one style of Pecorino, a family of cheeses though differing in style are all made with sheep’s milk. Central Bottle Wine + Provisions recently offered a class that gave an in-depth look at this cheese family – in actuality, a feast of Pecorino. The outstanding selection was assembled by Central Bottle’s cheesemonger Stephanie Santos. Cheesemonger extraordinaire Matt Rubiner was to be a co-presenter of the class but car trouble left him stranded on the side of the Pike. However, Stephanie’s commanding knowledge of the cheeses enabled her to hold forth eloquently even in his absence. Pecorinos are made up and down the boot of Italy. The evening’s selections came from Sardinia, Tuscany, Campania and Sicily, ranging stylistically from young and fresh to aged to even smoked. The beer and wine selections – well received on their own and well paired with the cheeses – were a collaboration with Maureen Rubino, Central Bottle manager, and Liz Vilardi, resident wine guru, and featured both familiar Italian grapes and more esoteric varietals. The evening began on a casual note with Stephanie’s version of “Beer and Pretzels”, “Field Mouse’s Farewell” with Pecorino Pepato – Pecorino studded with peppercorns – the malt and grain in the ale playing wonderfully with the salt and spice in the cheese. And then it was on to serious tasting. Some highlights of the evening –
- While producers are important in the production of Pecorino, the “houses” or affineurs determine the quality of the cheeses – an old notion in Europe, only now gaining serious impetus in America. The two houses represented in the class – Guffanti and Casa Madaio – are the premier affineurs of Italian Pecorino.
- The most controversial cheese of the evening was the Fiore Sardo, a rustic smoked cheese that proved challenging to some. Yet the cheese’s extreme piquancy was mediated by the fruity, vibrant Argiolas Cannonau Rosato. ( Actually, I think the wine converted one of the guests to the pink side.)
- For those interested in pairing condiments with cheese, Stephanie accompanied the Ruffanti Marzalino with a wonderful New Zealand honey produced from the flowers of the rata tree. The honey is available at Follow the Honey in Harvard Square. Extremely delicious!
- My favorite pairing of the evening was the outlier. Right in the middle of the tasting was the incongruity of the class – a Pecorino from Bellweather Farm in Petaluma CA paired with the well oaked and ripe Chardonnay from Belle Pente in the Willamette Valley OR. Both were creamy and well balanced; together, it was the most elegant pairing of the class.
- While Stephanie’s choice of cheeses and her presentation made for a most informative and enjoyable class, an added bonus was the interaction of those attending. Class members spoke freely and animatedly about their likes and dislikes, what worked and what didn’t work – all resulting in a spirited conversation.
For those interested in deepening their knowledge of cheese, classes at Central Bottle provide the perfect opportunity – a relaxed friendly setting, well selected cheeses and spirits and a knowledgeable staff. The next class – a cheese and beer pairing – is happening on June 27th.
The cheeses and their accompaniments
Guffanti Pepato Siciliano with Pretty Things “Fieldmouse’s Farewell”
Guffanti Marzalino with Carfagna Ansonoco
Casa Madaio Cinerino with Valdiperti Fiano di Avellino
Bellweather Farms “San Andreas” with Belle Pente Chardonnay
Fiore Sardo with Argiolas Cannonau Rosato
Casa Madaio Calcagno with Sella e Mosca Cannonau
Guffanti Pecorino di Pienza Gran Riserva with Barbi Rosso di Montalcino
Central Bottle Wine + Provisions 194 Mass Ave Cambridge MA