I just received results this morning for my genetic heritage test, and I am thrilled to learn that I am 1% Italian. I always felt drawn to Italy, and the lovely foods and specifically cheeses there, but now I truly know that it is my blood that is drawn to all things Italian. Thus today, both my blood and I present an Italian cheese-and this one’s a looker.
Have you ever peered into the cheese case of a store and wondered, “what the hell is that?” I actually do all the time, but this one takes the cake. Pecorino Affientato is a sheep milk cheese that is covered in a layer of hay. Actually, it really looks like fine dry grass to me, hay seems more robust than this . It looks like a weird, hairy, ancient sort of rustic cheese. It’s a little frightening to behold, but I shall soldier on. My Italian ancestors ate this sort of cheese, and so shall I! Sheep milk cheese has a long history in Italy, specifically in the area of Tuscany, where the tradition also occurs of wrapping the cheese in “straw” (which you don’t eat, silly) to give the cheese an extra-grassy flavour.
As if that wasn’t enough, this cheese is ALSO infused with honey-right in the cheese. This pecorino (remember, there are hundreds of pecorino cheeses, pecorino just means sheep milk cheese) is made on a commune in Tuscany. And by commune, I don’t mean hippie-type commune, alas, although “grass” is involved. These people actually produce something besides hazy memories . This commune was started in the 1970’s by a group of friends, and the farm has run as a co-operative since. They do everything on site here, they raise the sheep, milk the sheep, create the cheese, package it, and send it away to be consumed by lucky folk across the world. All the people who work on the farm also live on it.
Il Forteto makes a wide variety of cheese, including some DOP designated pecorino cheese. They made the Pecorino Bigio which I reviewed previously and wasn’t that crazy for, and Pecorino Doro which I also reviewed and ADORED, but the Affienato is perhaps the most interesting pecorino. Bigio is covered in ash, and Doro is really aged…but honey and hay, now THAT’S something!
My little wedge of hairy-looking Pecorino Affientato is simpering beside me here. It’s honey-coloured with a fine rosemary looking hay covering-which I shall not eat. It really smells barny. Like a sheep hanging out in a bale of hay with some honey combs lying around. The paste is firm, there are no eyes.
Hmmmm. This one is goooood. It is sweet and melts across your tongue. It’s herbaceous and grassy, it somehow reminds me of camomile tea. As you approach the rind there is a distinctive grassy note. The sheep taste is present, of course, but it is much moister than most pecorino cheese, I suspect that hay covering was retaining some of the moisture. The honey is quite subtle here, if you didn’t know about it, you might just assume it was from the sheep milk. This is a really groovy cheese and it would make an excellent addition to any cheese board, it’s showy and spectacular.