Rustico Black Pepper
This not-quite-hard, pasteurized sheep’s milk cheese comes from the countryside near Rome, in the region of Lazio. The taste is mild and only faintly sheep-y, but whole and halved peppercorns give it a pleasant kick. It make an excellent pizza cheese and is good shaved on vegetables, as a parmesan alternative in risotto, or in an egg sandwich. Yes, it’s a cheap trick to compare prices with Murray’s, but we can’t resist: they charge $15 per pound. At the co-op it’s $7. An unmissable bargain.
Barricato Al Pepe
If the Rustico’s not peppery enough for you… get help, or perhaps try this wonderful cheese from Sergio Moro, best known for longstanding co-op favourites Sottocenere and Piave. He runs a small operation in Veneto, in northern Italy, that gets its milk from tiny family dairies. Barricatto means barrel-aged in Italian – in this case wine barrels that give the hard, buttery cow’s milk cheese a little extra tang. Oh, and it’s covered in crushed pepper. Zing! One for the cheeseboard.
This is one of the most spectacular-looking cheeses we’ve seen: a doughnut-shaped wheel with an almost fluorescent yellow rind. It’s hard to believe this is naturally-occurring mould, but it is, a growth lovingly tended by Rodolphe Le Meunier, a young affineur who has already been named a Meullier Ouvrier de France. Only the very best artisans get to wear the red white and blue MOF collars (as anyone who’s seen patisserie documentary Kings Of Pastry would testify). Puits d’Astier is a little pricey, but worth every centime, for its dreamy semi-soft texture and intense, long-lasting flavor.
The name of this cheese – sweaty goat – isn’t the most appealing, but don’t let it put you off. It refers to the washed-rind aging process, in which the young cheeses are cured in brine, then aged for between eight days and a month, depending on the season. The result is a strong, full-flavoured goat cheese with a distinctly barnyard-y finish. It would stand up well to a full-bodied, old world red wine with plenty of earth and not too much fruit.
This cheese is a mystery to us, mainly because the label is written in Basque. Your romance languages are no use to you here, friend. But by God, the cheese is tasty. At first glance, it appears to be a blue cheese, but the texture is softer than expected, almost spreadably creamy, and the flavour is notably less strong than Stilton or Roquefort. So, it’s a blue cheese for people who don’t like blue cheese, and a little internet sleuthing reveals that it’s made from sheep’s milk by Ramon Lizeaga Azkue, in the smallest of small batches, somewhere near to a border between France and Spain that he presumably doesn’t recognise as legitimate. A revelation.