Recipe: Frisée Salad with Capra Sarda Cheese, Fennel, and Green Olives
About once a month I walk over to Murray’s cheese shop on Bleecker Street to check out any new Italian cheeses they may have gotten in. When they first moved across to the other side of Bleecker a few years back, expanding and gaining lots of attention, I was disappointed that their interest in Italian cheeses seemed to take a back seat to French and artisanal American ones, which hadn’t happened at the old store. They were doing such a good business with all the other cheeses, I got the feeling they thought Italian cheeses, especially ones from the South, weren’t cool enough to bother with in their new, upscale shop. This is changing, but their selection is still puny. Where’s my Ragusano, my Piacentino, my Canestrato Pugliese? I guess I’ll have to make my way down to DiPalo for those.
On my most recent trip to Murray’s I was happy to see a few new offerings. I noticed something called Capra Sarda, a Sardinian goat’s milk cheese. Sardinia is known for its sheep’s milk cheeses, so this intrigued me. It turns out Fratelli Pinna, one of Sardinia’s biggest sheep’s milk cheese producers, was approached by a few of Sardinia’s goat’s farmers with the idea of making an aged goat’s milk cheese. Pinna took them up on it. What they came up with is interesting, a goat’s milk cheese made in the style of a pecorino.
The cheese is firm and golden, not white like most goat’s cheeses. It has a goaty taste, but not overly so, and an appealing horse-poop-and-hay aroma in the rind. Yet once you cut into a piece and take a bite, the flavor is surprisingly sweet, with something of the browned-butter taste that you get with an aged Gouda. The aroma of Capra Sarda makes you think the taste will knock you out, but though it is an assertive cheese, it’s low-salt, and its sweetness tempers it, which is exactly why when I incorporated it into a salad I added green olives for balance. All this richness needed a juicy juxtaposition too, so I decided on fennel, which also supplies a bitter edge.
From a diet or health point of view (which is what we here at Skinny Guinea specialize in), Capra Sarda is a good cheese to shave over salad. Since it has a fairly assertive taste, you can get away with using very little but still make a statement. And it can stand up to vinegar. I like it a lot, but so far I actually prefer it in a salad rather than by itself. I’m not sure exactly why, but maybe because of how it really takes to good olive oil. This feeling may change. I’m going to try eating it with various fruits and see how that works out.
Here is a simple salad, just three contrasting tastes, but when I put them together I found that they added up to one unique flavor that really made me happy.
If you can’t find Capra Sarda, another aged goat cheese should do, but I’ve never seen one with quite the texture of this cheese. I’d instead go with an aged Tuscan pecorino, many of which are actually made in Sardinia anyway.
(Murray’s Cheese Shop is at 254 Bleecker Street, between Sixth and Seventh Avenues. Its phone number is (212) 243-3289.)
Frisée Salad with Capra Sarda Cheese, Fennel, and Green Olives
½ teaspoon Spanish sherry vinegar (or a little more to taste)
A few drops of pastis (I used Pernod)
A pinch of sugar
1 garlic clove, peeled and lightly crushed
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
A small head of frisée lettuce, torn into smallish pieces
½ a small fennel bulb, very thinly sliced
A few large sprigs of tarragon, lightly chopped
A handful of green olives (I used Picholines)
Freshly ground black pepper
A small chunk of Capra Sarda cheese
In a small bowl, combine the vinegar and a few drops of pastis. Add the garlic clove, smashing it a little with a fork so it releases its flavor. Add a little salt and a tiny pinch of sugar. Give it all a stir. Add the olive oil, and stir to blend.
Put the frisée in a salad bowl. Add the fennel, tarragon, and olives. Grind on a good amount of black pepper, and pour on the dressing. Give it a toss. Divide the salad up onto two plates, and shave three big sheets of the Capra Sarda onto each salad. Serve right away.