Moliterno al Tartufo
Produced on the island of Sardinia off the coast of Italy, this is an unforgettably dense and fudgy pecorino laced with thick veins of black truffle.
Its story begins in the late 19th century, when Agostino Villecco, an enterprising cheesemaker from southern Italy, moved to the sheep-filled Mediterranean island to satisfy a mainland demand for pecorinos. Using milk from small local shepherds, he began making cheese according to methods from his hometown, and then shipping fresh wheels back to the town of Moliterno for aging and sale.
As his sons Carmine and Efisio took up the cheesemaking trade—later passing their business on to Efisio's sons Jon and Piergiorgio—Central Formaggi developed several versions of the original Moliterno cheese—and this truffle-filled version is one of them.
While the modern dairy near Cagliari now turns out 65 different cheeses, Central Formaggi doesn't compromise on tradition when it comes to Moliterno. Wheels are still made seasonally from December to July. The cultures used to inoculate the milk are homebred. Curds are molded using traditional woven reed baskets, and wheels are aged on wooden shelves, where they cultivate a colorful array of fuzzy molds between weekly washings.
While many truffle cheeses are fresh, this one is aged with the special ingredient added, interestingly, after some maturation has already taken place. After traditional wheels of Moliterno age for two months, the most flawless rounds are selected to become Tartufos and enclosed in plastic bags so they stay soft. The paste is infused with freshly ground black truffles during a proprietary injection process, creating the unique zebra stripes whose flavors permeate wheels during additional months of aging; the cheese's surface is also rubbed with the truffles.
When carefully cut open by hand, wheels of Moliterno al Tartufo display a jagged surface reminiscent of a rocky crag. Bite-sized flakes crumble off and melt in the mouth, yielding perfect savory and creamy harmony, the truffle balancing the rich earthy notes of the sheep's milk.
Pairings with Moliterno al Tartufo can be challenging. Big, hearty red wines are probably the order of the day, but avoid anything too tannic so as to not overshadow the nuances of the cheese.