Pecorino di Pienza: The New Cocktail Cheese

Pecorino di Pienza
Pecorino di Pienza

! GO-2010

I started back to work this week after summer vacation, and believe me when I say: Grrrl needed a martini. That put me in the market for an after-work cheese, something strong enough to stand up to gin. Enter Pecorino di Pienza, a Tuscan sheep’s milk cheese that loves olives, cured meats, and, oh yes, martinis.

Pecorino tends to get lumped among the grating cheeses – a shame. While it’s great on pasta and sautéed mushrooms, it’s an uncomplicated loner – salty, nutty, robust…worthy of cocktails and a stand-alone role. Let it come to room temperature, and break it apart with your fingers. Add a dish of nuts, some bread and olive oil, and you’ve got dinner, as far as I’m concerned.

There are various Pecorinos on the market, but this one from Pienza gets gold stars. It’s made by the Putzulu family, and their nickname for this cheese is “Grand Old Man,” after their grandfather. The wheels are coated in tomato paste and olive oil, a hallmark of Pecorinos made in the province of Siena.

This is a firm cheese with a beautiful bone color. It keeps well, on account of being rather dry. Over the weekend, I had two friends over who were martini lovers – both rogue Midwesterners. At first they were skeptical of mixing cheese and martinis, but they went home changed, oh yes, and now they are no doubt stocking their wet bars with Pecorino.

Meanwhile, I’m eating some leftover baguette with Pecorino and truffle honey. (Turns out Pecorino is a flexible master.) Here are a few other nibbles that pair well, should you want to have a Martini & Pecorino party after, say, an episode of Mad Men: pickled garlic, meaty green olives, sopressata, salted almonds. If you want to impress, buy a little duck prosciutto and wrap thin slices around Amarena cherries; secure with a toothpick, and you will be the new office darling.