The Cheesemonger: Fiore Sardo

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Name: Fiore Sardo
Producer: Various (Sardinia, Italy)
Milk: Raw Sheep
Age: 3-6 months
Price: $14.99-$16.99

Pecorino Romano, that Italian cheese of dubious quality whose flavor tune is often sung in the key of "salt", this article is not about that cheese. Instead, we turn to its cousin. Call it Sardo or even Pecorino Sardo, but its true name is Fiore Sardo, the flower of Sardinia.

Other than a few basic features, like being made from raw sheep's milk and curlded with lamb rennet, this cheese is as varied as Italy itself. Some versions are smoked, some are rubbed in olive oil and others in animal fat. Even aging is widely varied, with some wheels remaining young and mild and others maturing to a rock hard status.

When searching for Fiore Sardo, my first inclination is to look at the rind. It should be natural; this is a rustic cheese and it should look like it! As always, beware of wax rinds. They never add flavor to a cheese and generally indicate the cheese has not been rubbed in fat or oil, which add to Fiore Sardo's flavor. Also, pay attention to the texture. Even at Murray's, we've gotten wheels whose age is different enough to drastically affect the taste, producing either a milder, snackable cheese or one more suitable for grating.

Flavor-wise, I find a pleasant herbiness in the younger varieties, giving way to a distinct sheepy and smoky taste later on. Currently, Murray's carries a Fratelli Pinna DOP version which hits you so fast with its saltiness, it's often hard to overcome. But once you get past that initial reaction, I've found it has a lean gamey flavor that's strangely addictive. I've also picked up an example at Fairway that was incredibly sheepy and smokey, but far more sweet than gamey, so keep in mind these variations.

Fiore Sardo is available at just about every quality cheese shop. I strongly encourage you to try each and every version you see, as the scope of flavors varies wildly. That said, I find all pretty pleasant and an excellent substitute when looking for something slightly more exotic than Romano or Parmesan.