Thursday, May 24, 2012

Fiore Sardo

Sometimes referred to as Pecorino Sardo, Fiore Sardo is produced on the island of Sardinia off the coast of Italy. Sardinia is an island of savage beauty and violent contradictions. The island's hard and barren interior is surrounded by a green and lush coast. Cheeses that are produced in this hot and dry atmosphere differ greatly from Italian cheeses produced in the cooler northern reaches. This is a cheese with very ancient origins, thought by some to date back to the Bronze Age. With a paste more golden than is usually found in sheep milk cheese, Fiore Sardo is banded by a hard, black, natural rind. This semi-hard cheese is sharp and savory.

Although there are now industrially produced variations of Fiore Sardo that are sometimes made from a blend of cow's and sheep's milk or even pasteurized milk, traditionally Fiore Sardo is made from fresh, unpasteurized sheep's milk, sourced from native Sardinian sheep from a single flock. These versions are made in small mountain huts - known as "pinnette" - by the shepherds that look after these flocks. The natural smoke from the hut's central, open fires give these cheeses their characteristically smoky overtones.

The molds containing the cheeses are briefly immersed in hot water to help develop the thick outer rind. They are then unmolded and placed in a brine solution. After removal from the brine, the cheeses are placed on a trellis-type mat made of rushes which is suspended in the smoky area above the fireplace in the mountain hut.

The second stage of maturation takes place when the wheels are transferred to a platform in the roof before finally being finished in an underground cellar for the last stages of maturation. In the cellar, the wheels are periodically turned (flipped) and greased with olive oil to prevent the rind cracking. Cheeses are matured for between two and eight months before release.

The texture of the outer rind of Fiore Sardo is dry and hard and, depending on age, a pale golden-rust color or a deep rich burnt brown. The texture of the cheese is very firm and dense and straw-ivory in color. Flavors are sweet, rich and nut-like with notes of burned caramel, smoke and salt. Fiore Sardo was awarded D.O.P. status in 1996.

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