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Sardo(nic) – Part One

July 6, 2010

It has been a long time since I was a regular at a local cheese shop.  Granted, part of this is about me, and a change in my overall diet.  Trying to lower cholesterol without going on pills isn’t nearly as much fun as it sounds. But the other part is about not finding a cheese shop in my newly adopted city that inspires me to throw caution to the wind with the sensual intensity of its wares.

Despite my absence from the front of the cheese counter, I still know a fair bit about cheese.  But I’d be lying is I implied my cheese skills were as keen as they once were.

Since it’s summer, and I’ve been getting a weekly supply of stunningly aromatic basil from Roxbury Farm, I have had true Genovese pesto on the mind lately.  Marcella Hazan’s take on the recipe suggests using Fiore Sardo cheese, should you be able to find it.

What are the chances something like this could be found in Albany?  Some might say slim to none.  But there is one thing we have in spades, and that is Italian markets.  And if you are a regular reader, you should know by now that if anything, I am a prisoner of hope.

First let’s back up a minute.  Fiore Sardo isn’t a straightforward cheese.  Perhaps the best way for me to explain is to quote a section from Steve Jenkins’ wonderful book, Cheese Primer:

Pecorino is the generic name given to all Italian cheese made from the milk of sheep (pecora). Fiore Sardo (fee-OH-reh-SAR-doh), which is also known as Pecorino Sardo or simply Sardo, is one of the best known Pecorinos.  All Sardinian cheeses are merely variations on name-controlled Fiore Sardo. Confusion about this cheese is rife. The confusion arises—indeed, most people aren’t even aware that they should be confused—because there are a number of fraudulent examples of so-called Sardo marketed in the U.S., Canada, and, yes, even in Europe. Argentina sells hundreds of tons yearly of a sharp, quite decent cow’s-milk cheese which it brazenly markets as Sardo.

Now clearly part of the responsibility of what I’m about to unfold falls squarely on my shoulders, because I didn’t brush up on this cheese before going shopping.  All I knew was that this noble cheese was destined to replace the grated Pecorino Romano in the pesto recipe.

I had high hopes for the cheese counter at Cardona’s market.  This is a wonderful place.  Every time I walk in, the store smells so good from everything cooking in the kitchen that I wonder why I don’t come here more often.  Plus there is even some limited seating inside the store to enjoy your food.  Their cannoli could use some work, but that’s another story.

The fact that this store has a dedicated cheese counter at all is special.  But regrettably while I was there it was unmanned.  When I tracked someone down to ask whether or not they carried Fiore Sardo, I got a blank look and was advised to ask the gentleman at the register in the front of the store.

I explained to him what I was looking for, and what I planned to do with it.  He explained that they made pesto in their kitchen with Parm-Reg (which my recipe also includes), and while he had never heard of Fiore Sardo, he did have Sardo from Argentina.

For the sake of science, and to show my appreciation for his time, I bought a half pound piece and took it home.

Then it was off to Andy and Son’s Italian market just up the street.  This is where you get cannoli.  For those who haven’t been, it’s a narrow shop with hanging meats and cheeses.  They make their own sausage, and people love their sandwiches.  It turned out that Little Miss Fussy went nuts over the thinly sliced sweet sopressata we got as a snack.

When I asked the nice young man behind the counter about Fiore Sardo, a lost look washed over his face, and he asked one of the more senior staffers.  I liked the bravado of the big man’s response, “Sure I know it, I know every Italian cheese. We’ve got some Sardo right here.”

Without asking for a taste, I asked for a half-pound wedge to bring home, hopeful that I had indeed found the real deal.  I didn’t even mind that the nice young man cut me a 1/3 pound piece followed by a 1/6 pound piece to complete my order.  He did a much better job slicing the salami.

Back at home, looking at these two cheese side by side, no casual observer would say they were the same cheese.  They were different colors and different textures.  Clearly Cardona’s Argentinian Sardo was not what I was looking for, as it matched Jenkins’ description of the brazenly fraudulent but decent cow’s milk cheese.  And while Andy’s cheese was much tastier, it completely lacked any flavor of sheep’s milk, which was disappointing.

So this batch of pesto got mixed with the Locatelli Pecorino Romano.  The other cheeses will be eaten out of hand.  And the great Albany Fiore Sardo search continues.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. AddiesDad permalink
    July 6, 2010 10:33 am

    Have you tried ordering it from one of the speciality markets in the area, like Putnam in Saratoga? I can’t imagine Roma’s will have it. Shoot me an email if you’re interested in trying to have some imported from NYC.

  2. Vicki permalink
    July 6, 2010 12:52 pm

    No advice on the cheese, but I completely agree on the cannoli issue – Andy’s is the aboslute best in the area!!

  3. Phairhead permalink
    July 6, 2010 2:42 pm

    Try coming to Sch’dy. Cappiello’s or Sal’s Meat Market or

  4. July 8, 2010 9:13 am

    What about Gustav at the Honest Weight Food Co-op?

    Isn’t he the cheese-meister extraordinaire?

  5. enoughalready! permalink
    July 12, 2010 4:25 pm

    have you tried cardona’s? they have some unusual italian cheeses. but considering it is a pecorino, it might be similar to a pecorino romano in taste. to my taste, i’d prefer the traditional reggiano for pesto, but who knows? (btw, try the barolo cheese if you do go there)

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