The Cheese Trail: In Hot Pursuit of Sottocenere
Editor’s Note: Please welcome our newest contributor, Tyler. A Delaware native and DC resident, Tyler is a baker’s apprentice, bread salesman, and future culinary student. Clearly, we’re fired up to have him on the team.
Last week I visited my sister in Richmond and she lit up while describing an Italian cheese called sottocenere. So when I returned to DC late in the week, I went straight to the Dean & Deluca in Georgetown to find some. While waiting at the cheese counter (and listening to the gentleman on my right finish telling the associate about how Americans just don’t understand cured meats), I called my sister to double-check the spelling and pronunciation so I wouldn’t hurt my food cred in such esteemed company. “Sottocenere.”
Okay, “Excuse me, do you have any sotto–…” (voice trails off). “Sottocenere, no man, it flies out the door. It was gone six hours after our shipment on Wednesday.” Shit, I’ve stumbled on a holy relic of foodies. He told me to call next Wednesday. Well, next Wednesday rolled around, and I’ll be damned if I wasn’t getting some sottocenere.
Let me pause and say that whoever is handling this coveted cheese is about as reliable as your neighborhood weed dealer—you know, the one you’re trying to catch between his own four-hour windows of intoxication, and who never knows when his “guy” is going to come through. I called five times from morning through afternoon, each time getting a pleasant “We don’t know if it’s today or tomorrow, but try back later.” This is no offense to Dean & Deluca; in fact, one helpful woman at the cheese counter actually recommended that I call Whole Foods. So I did, and there it had been the entire time…
Finally I had it in my hands. AND – at Wholefoods it is $22.99/lb, beating Dean & Deluca’s $32/lb price. A side-by-side quality comparison will have to wait for another day. I raced home and tore it open and immediately the smell of pig sex slapped me in the face. I sliced some off and as it approached my mouth it was like huffing truffles. The truth is that adding truffles to cheese is like putting bacon on a cheeseburger, or getting Cristiano Ronaldo on your adult league team. It works so well it’s almost not fair. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
The Venetian sottocenere al tarfulo means “under ash” and “with truffles”—the ash part referring to the gray (edible) rind comprised of ash mixed with cinnamon, nutmeg, coriander, fennel, and licorice in varying combination. The cheese itself is by no means ancient, dating back only about 15 or 20 years. Truffle, while the predominant taste, is part of a more varied, earthy profile. It actually seems like the majority of the truffle taste is coming from the truffle oil that is rubbed on the cheese before applying the ash rind, as opposed to the somewhat sparsely mixed black truffle shavings within the cheese. Soft and buttery, it is a good cheese with a scent that would make the Lion of St. Mark blush…especially when he smells the pig orgy happening in your mouth.
My brief research reveals that the cheese is ideal for omelets, risotto fritters, or grated over salads or pasta, but I’d love to hear how the truffle-lovers out there might put sottocenere to use.