I’m going through a hard-cheese phase. Pecorino, Parm. They’re good picks for February. Why? They’ve got warm, nutty notes and toffee hooks -- so perfect for gray weather when what you’ve got is cheese and what you want is candy.
Take Ragusano. It’s my favorite hard cheese in the fridge right now because it tastes – I kid you not – like movie popcorn. Drop a morsel in your mouth and you taste sea salt, then butter, followed by a hint of sweet corn.
Ragusano came to my attention through the cheesemonger Ian Peacock, who has Fiore Sardo (a famous hard cheese) tattooed on his chest. When he said, “Madame, you must try this,” I knew I would swoon. I did. I can’t stop rifling through the crisper drawer for just one more sliver.
Ragusano is one of the few cow’s milk cheeses from Sicily – home to sheepy Pecorino. It’s not as firm as a Pec, which is nice because you can actually cube Ragusano and toss them on a salad (the new crouton, n'est-ce pas?) or, hey, take them to work in a bento. This makes for a very good desk snack. Better than licorice but just as sweet-salty.
Last night, I had a yearning for some bitter greens and pasta, so I sautéed a bunch of broccoli rabe with a few cloves of garlic, boiled up some orecchiette (translated from Italian, this means “little ears”) and tossed the shebang with plenty of olive oil, cherry toms, a squeeze of lemon juice, red pepper flakes, and Ragusano.
Gorgeous. I think my post-Valentine heart throb might just be this raw-milk cheese. Ragusssano -- it sounds like the name of an opera villain, but it tastes like a lozenge, the only kind of lozenge you could ever want. It’s a cheese with reverie attached. And the best part? It goes with everything…pasta, cold cuts, Sylvester Stallone, etc.
Next time I see a matinee at The Ritz, I am bringing cubed Ragusano and a flask of red wine.