My friend Gerard is a colleague and former monk. Last weekend, we celebrated the first night of Advent at his apartment, a homey place with an organ, a meditation corner, and a very nice liquor cabinet. The life of an ex-monk is not without its pleasures.
For the evening, I prepared a special cheese plate. I brought over half of an Epoisses, originally developed by Cistercian monks.
Next: Frumage Baladin, a gorgeous raw milk cheese with Trappist connections – specks of barley malt (left over from barley wine) add nutty, boozy undertones. It tastes like the peanutbutter of angels.
Finally, my gem: Pecorino di Fossa. I’d learned that this cheese is buried in the ground to referment, then unearthed on the Feast of Saint Catherine.
“Which Saint Catherine?” Gerard asked, when I unwrapped this cheese. Even as an ex-monk, he still knows all of his feast days. He darted to his bookshelf and withdrew The Liturgy of the Hours from his days as a Benedictine. A photo slipped out, a picture of Gerard in his monastic garb.
Gerard poured martinis and put on some Anonymous Four. We sat down to taste the cheeses and read about Saint Catherine, a virgin and doctor from the 1300s, now famous for convincing the Pope to return to Rome.
The Pecorino di Fossa was so magnificent that Gerard was moved to phone another monastic acquaintance – a fromer Trappist turned sous chef, a man who once taught me to make the perfect omelet.
We regaled him with descriptions of each cheese, via speakerphone.
Our favorite of the night? Pecorino di Fossa. Talk about a nuanced cheese. It tasted sweet and milky on the front end, then grew brighter by the moment, dissolving on the tongue to leave a pleasant buttered-popcorn-saltiness.
It was an auspicious beginning to a lovely dinner, followed by scotch and chocolate éclairs. A beautiful toast to Advent. If you are curious to try Pecorino di Fossa, may I recommend serving it with a martini? It's a perfect cocktail for this hard sheep's milk cheese.
Gerard makes his martinis with Noilly Prat Vermouth, Tub Gin, and meaty green olives from Whole Foods. He claims these are the only olives with pimentos that actually taste like red pepper. And he should know. He spends a lot of time in deep thought.