Pecorino di Fossa: Cheese of the Hole in the Ground

The cheese list at Da Marco Italian restaurant is short but full of surprises. Take this aromatic sheep's milk cheese called formaggio di fossa, for instance. I had some the other day with crusty bread and berry jam and the last splash of a luscious Montepulciano. The cheese was outrageously rank with earthy mushroom-like undertones. According to the wine list, the formaggio was aged for three months in a hole in the ground.

When I got home, I read the whole story of pecorino di fossa. The cheese is made in August, when the cows are feeding on sweet summer grass and clover. Then it's aged in these naturally occurring stone pits called fosse (the singular is fossa).

The cheesemakers burn hay in the pits to dry them out, line them with straw and put the cheese inside on a little wooden platform. Then they bury the cheese with sand and leave it there in the hole until the feast of St. Catherine of Alexandria, November 25, when they make a big party out of digging it up.

It's an exceptional seasonal cheese that's traditionally enjoyed during the holidays and early January.

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