When we were living in Italy, our go-to cheese was always pecorino. Previously, the only pecorino we'd experienced in the States was pecorino romano, which is basically a step up from parmesan for topping pasta and flavoring soups, but not the most exciting to eat on its own. The pecorino we enjoyed in Italy was softer and richer (and cheaper) than the hard salt rocks we'd found at American supermarkets. It's also steeped in tradition—some pecorinos are aged underground and unearthed on the feast day of Saint Catherine—and is believed to be the first hard cheese ever created. The many variations of pecorino include special flavors, such as black truffle.
While in Italy, we also took advantage of their truffles, which are relatively affordable. But they're too expensive in the United States to be eaten in good conscience—last time we were in Wegman's, we saw the black truffles labeled for $999.99 per pound.
This might be sacrilege to food snobs (and no, we do not include ourselves in that category), but truffles are really not that good. Not $1k good. Now, we might be biased: We suffer from something of a mushroom phobia. It's just unsettling to see weird little Earth dicks popping up out of the dirt when there's enough of that elsewhere. It's like Satan and his demons are growing their way out of the subterranean core of hell. Not to mention they smell and taste like doom.
But we can't say no to anything encased in a good, crumbly pecorino, and the Italians are masters of infusing truffles into oil, honey, cheese, and other stuff, probably. So while at Cieriello Fine Italian Foods in Belvedere Square Market, we swallowed our fungal fear once again and picked up a formidable wedge of Pecorino Moliterno al Tartufo ($26.99 per pound).
Originally produced in the small town of Moliterno in the southern Italian region of Basilicata, these days Pecorino Moliterno most often comes from Sardinia. Made from ewe's milk, the cheese features the three main food groups: salty, sweet, and spicy. The immediate saltiness opens to a saccharine paste followed by a peppery bite. The truffle cream, which is injected into the olive-oil-rubbed wheels after several months or even a year of aging, forms in thick, moist veins, grounding the flavor in a strong, pervading earthiness. It's like a pint of Ben & Jerry's, generous in fillings and flavors, or if you poured honey all over your naked body, rolled in damp soil, washed off in red wine among a herd of fungus-sniffing swine, and then sacrificed those pigs in a twilight pagan ritual in an ancient, candlelit Italian temple. With all of these nuanced tastes, Moliterno is an unexpected crowd-pleaser, even if it's filled with demon dick.