Tasting the Cheeses of Sicily

Photo by David Kessler

Photo by David Scott Kessler

For the cheese-curious traveler in Sicily (or Italy, for that matter), there are several useful books to read in advance: Slow Food’s Italian Cheese and Italy Dish by Dish. Before I left the States, I scoured them both and spent an evening at my kitchen table making a list in my journal of all the divine bites I hoped to taste: warm ricotta, the wine-flame flavored ice creams of Ragusa, honey from Mount Etna, brioche con gelato.

Of course, my real dream was to eat all of the cheeses of the island (there are about 12, mostly sheep’s milk, many of them produced for centuries). At a restaurant called Wine Bar Razmataz in the buzzy city of Catania, that dream came true.

A board of Sicilian cheeses arrived at the table on the night of a birthday dinner for Due South curator (and instigator behind this trip) Marianne Bernstein. Glory be! There were 5 cheeses, accompanied by toasted local pistachios and honey from the bees of Mount Etna (I imagined them circling the mouth of the volcano as I drizzled honey across each morsel).

This post, produced in collaboration with artist/photographer David Scott Kessler, is a tribute to that warm, starry, dairy-laden night. Let me paint the scene: the outdoor table was lit with candles, and gathered around it were a multitude of artists from Philadelphia and Sicily. The night began with a bottle of Etna Rosso (a nose to the glass yielded the faint smell of ash and raspberries) and ended with cheesecake and fireworks, shot from behind the crumbling walls of a castle.

One of those meals to remember?

Definitely.

And now, the cheeses of Sicily…not all, to be sure, but a beautiful few for a reverential board that represents the island.

On the Board: 5 Traditional Sicilian Cheeses

1. Piacentinu Ennese

From the province of Enna, an indigenous sheep’s milk cheese swirled with threads of local saffron and studded with peppercorns. Sweet, aromatic, mild, available in the U.S.

2. Tuma Persa

Made by a single maker, Salvatore Passalaqua, this raw cow’s milk cheese is firm and spicy, thanks to a rub of black pepper and olive oil on the rind. Available in the U.S. at Di Bruno Bros.

3. Vastedda del Belice

A very unusual raw-milk sheep cheese that is “spun” (like mozzarella). Sweet and mild, with a short shelf life.

4. Capra Girgentana

Made from the milk of the rare spiral-horned Girgentana goat, native to Sicily and near extinction, this fresh cheese is wrapped in fig leaves. Stunning.

5. Pecorino Siciliano D.O.P

An ancient cheese made from raw sheep’s milk, thought to be the first cheese in all of Europe, according to Slow Food.

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If you go: Wine Bar Razmataz was the best restaurant on my journey. The vibe is relaxed, the wine list is excellent, and the kitchen highlights regional cuisine. My favorite dish was the risotto with swordfish, capers, and smoked scamorza cheese.

Recreate this board: Ask your local cheesemonger about these selections or similar selections. In Philadelphia, Di Bruno Bros. carries Piacentinu and Tuma Persa. You may find others at Eataly in New York. If not, you just may have to plan a trip to Sicily. Itinerary coming soon!

Posts in this Series: This is the 4th in a series of posts about the cheeses of Sicily. I traveled around the island this summer to chronicle its cheeses as part of an ongoing project curated by Marianne Bernstein, called Due South.

 

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2 Responses to “Tasting the Cheeses of Sicily”
  1. Sicily is trying to bring back the Girgentana goats. They are breeding them at the Valley of the Temples! Saw the cute things with my own eyes. Let’s hope they are successful!

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