Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Testun al Borolo

I thought I'd seen it all, from cheese packed in espresso grounds (Beehive) to cheese rubbed down with cocoa (Cocoa Cardona). Then my friend Scott yanked open his fridge, pulled out a brown paper package, and unwrapped a wedge of cheese that looked like it was encased in gizzards. No, it wasn't gizzards, but it looked like a bloody mess. Instead, it was Testun al Borolo, a mixed milk cheese that is packed in grape skins. And grape seeds.

Eating Testun al Borolo is a little bit like eating trail mix, because those grape seeds are crispy -- and yet, the grape skins are damp. Faintly. They made me think of tobacco, dry and yet moist. All in all a perplexing, delightful experience. I can't think of a cheese that tastes, smells, and feels more rustic. Break out the camping equipment; here is a cheese that is best eaten under the stars next to a musty tent.

The grapes that encase Testun come from the Nebbiolo grape, used in making Borolo wine. Mano Vino, a wine and travel blog, described pairing this cheese with a "Super Umbrian" wine, Sportoletti's 2006 Assisi Rosso -- an earthy red with flavors of tobacco and cherries. Sounds marvy. Others recommend a Lambic. Could be a little sweet, although me thinks that a bottle of New Glarus' Belgian Red, made with Door County Cherries, could be a sickeningly good match.

Scary-intense as this cheese might appear, it's actually pretty mild. Complex, yes, but subtle. The texture is very dry, not quite like a Parm, but it crumbles nicely. Scott had it on a salad at a fabu-dabu neighborhood restaurant, Modo Mi, and he said it was all he could think about for the rest of his meal. It's certainly arresting. If I ever go on one of those Jersey Devil tours in the Pine Barrens, I'm definitely taking a baguette and some Testun. I think it could scare off a Yeti.

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