A Cook's Secret Weapon: Pecorino Pepato

The Cheesemonger

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When it comes to cooking, it sometimes feels blasphemous to use insanely pricey cheese. Melting cheese into a dish with a handful of other ingredients doesn't exactly pay appropriate homage to the cheese itself, so why use a cheese that might be better enjoyed on its own, unadulterated by heat or other flavors?

But just because you're cooking with a cheese doesn't mean that you have to use swill.

Cooking with cheese is like cooking with wine. If you cook with it, it should be good enough to eat. Or drink.

Meet Pecorino Pepato, one of my favorite back-pocket cheeses. Dotted with whole black peppercorns throughout its paste, this wheel makes a great option for cooking by adding an entirely new layer of flavor to whatever you're cooking.

Traditionally from Sicily, but now made also in Lazio and domestically (check out Belgioioso and Bellwether Farm's versions), Pecorino Pepato is an aged, salty sheep's milk cheese, with a rustic bite typical of an Italian table cheese. I'd never call this cheese subtle or refined. It's an in-your-face, not so delicate cheese, more compelling for its peppery bite than anything else. If you eat it raw, have some fatty cured meats and a hefty red wine alongside.

But I love it as an alternative to Parmigiano-Reggiano or pecorino Romano in my cooking. It'll add that cheesy-salty-tang to your finished dishes, with such pronounced black pepper flavor. It's easy to find, and the shelf life ain't bad, either: Stored properly (wrapped first in parchment paper, then tightly in plastic wrap), the cheese will last for a month or more in your fridge.

Use Pecorino Pepato as you'd use any other hard, grating cheese. It'd be a quick shortcut in Cacio e Pepe, since the peppercorns are already in the cheese, and would be equally excellent atop any other simple pasta— from one with red sauce to a classic autumnal dish with butternut squash and sage. Try it grated into polenta or atop risotto, or as a sub for ricotta salata in this salad dressing.

Pecorino Pepato is widely available in most markets or online at igourmet for $5.99/8 oz.

(Image: Affinage Cheese)

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Nora Singley used to be a cheesemonger and the Director of Education at Murray's Cheese Shop. Until recently she was a TV Chef on The Martha Stewart Show. She is currently a freelance food stylist and recipe developer in New York.