After the gooey and stinky cheeses of last week, we wanted to review a pair of cheeses this week that are universally enjoyed and will provide a “safer” option for the less adventurous. The two sheep’s milk cheeses we’ve selected, Pecorino and Manchego, are fairly well known and readily available. While the two Pecorinos on the list are a little harder to find — Pecorino di Fossa is unearthed from the caves on November 25 and available in a limited quantity for a short time — I was able to find a decent substitute in the Pecorino Gran Cru. (Though I will still try to track down the di Fossa before it’s gone!)

Pecorino is a hard sheep’s milk cheese that is similar in appearance to Parmigiano Regiano, but has a nuttier, saltier flavor. The sugars in the milk crystalize as the cheese ages, providing a satisfying crunch and added burst of flavor with every bite. I love the slight grassy hints found in sheep’s milk cheeses, and pecorino is ideal before, during or after a meal. I actually used the pecorino and dried thyme in the breading for my portobella fries Sunday, which was a nice blend of flavors.

You’ll often read that you should create a cheese plate with several different types of cheese, but if you know what type of cheese you and your guests like it can also be fun to pick one style and offer three different versions. With the Pecorino Gran Cru, I also served a spicy Pecorino Peperoncini. I would round out the selection with the Foja de Noce, wrapped in walnut leaves.

While the Il Forteto cheeses (the di Fossa, de Noce and Peperoncini) are from the Emilia Romagna region, the Pecorino Gran Cru is actually made in Sardinia, for the Academia Barilla. 

If you’re eating pecorino on its own, you might want to try a fruity red Italian wine. If it will be served with spicy or just a lot of different flavors, a sweeter white wine is a safe bet. For our dessert platter, I added a couple dried dates and sugar cookies and paired it with Dante Rivetti’s Riveto, an Italian Moscato d’Asti. (Meeting the four cocktail party criteria: something sweet, something spicy, something salty and something bubbly.) I don’t usually like sweet wines, but I thought the Riveto was a pleasant match with the salty pecorino. Available at Whole Foods for $16.99, it’s a budget-friendly choice that will let you focus your resources on the cheese.

This is “Make Your Holidays Cheesy Week” here at Cheese + Champagne, so stay tuned for holiday cheese gift ideas and tips for stretching your cheese budget, plus our second review of the week on Thursday!