Foja de Noce

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When the holidays are approaching most all cooks and bakers I know begin thinking about festive treats and Christmas cookies. But not me. I think cheese. I begin collecting Gruyère for pasta, Fontina for savory tarts, Reblochon for potatoes, Époisses for hors d’oeuvres, and raclette and fondue cheeses for special feasts with family and friends.

Thanks to reading blogs, about food, of course, I recently came across one called Di Bruno Bros. From the blog I discovered their website, simply called dibruno.com.

The Di Bruno story is a typical one from 1930, with 2 Italian brothers moving from Italy to Philadelphia via Ellis Island. There they opened the successful Di Bruno Bros. grocery store, but in 1965 the store became primarily a cheese shop. Eventually the sons and other Di Bruno relatives took over the business, and they expanded the products with international gourmet items, and opened new store locations.

Also because of the blog, I discovered and ordered the cookbook Di Bruno Bros. House of Cheese – a guide to wedges, recipes, and pairings. The author is Tenaya Darlington, who also blogs as Madame Fromage.

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Because of where I live, I have to be my own cheesemonger. My local grocery store does a decent job, but they’re not going to put out cheeses that the bulk of the population won’t buy. So I make purchases when I travel, and order online a lot, as much as my diet allows. French cheeses are my favorites overall, but the world of artisanal cheeses in the US has really grown, which is a fabulous trend.

So the book appealed to me because cheeses are described in delightful prose. I love the names of the chapters, such as ‘The Quiet Ones,” “Vixens” and “The Stinkers.” But also there are recipes associated with some of the cheeses, provided by the Di Bruno Bros. kitchen, and also notes from their professional cheesemongers. So what’s not to love!

All of my favorite cheeses that I mentioned above are in this book, but I also love that they wrote about two of my favorite American cheeses. One is an old standby for my family – Humboldt Fog by Cypress Grove Chèvre, and a recent discovery – Red Hawk by Cowgirl Creamery.

In the introduction, the author writes, quoting a cheesemaker, that “making a cheese with pasteurized milk is like trying to bake a cake with hard-boiled eggs.” Love it.

To get to the point of this post, one cheese in the book especially caught my attention – Foja de Noce – an Italian sheep’s milk cheese that I’d never heard of. It’s wrapped in walnut leaves and aged in mountain caves. Drinks suggested for pairing include Barolo, a pint of amber, or Scotch ale. Hmmmm.

Here is the cheese. It’s a Pecorino, and has a delightful flavor, similar to an aged Manchego. To quote the author, which will give you an idea of her writing style, “it has all the primal whomp of a nutty, aged sheep’s milk cheese, and yet there is so much more going on: a lazy kind of sweetness, a buttery stealth that lingers, a dreamy, woodsy depth.”

The recipe using this cheese was intriguing to me because it’s a tapenade which not only contains olives, which is to be expected, but made with Foja de noce and smoked almonds. I’ve posted on tapenade before on the blog, and I’ve only been familiar with olive-heavy tapenades. So i knew i just had to make it. It was a good excuse to try the cheese, besides.

I’m typing the recipe as it’s written, but please take note below on my changes.

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Sicilian Olive and Smoked Almond Tapenade
from Di Bruno Bros. House of Cheese

1/4 pound Foja de Noce, grated (I crumbled)
1/3 cup smoked almonds (I’m assuming whole almonds)
1/3 cup dry-cured Sicilian olives*, pitted
1 small garlic clove
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Place all of the ingredients in a food processor.
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Puree until the mixture is finely chopped, about the consistency of pesto. This photo shows the tapenade on its way to become pesto-like in consistency.
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You may need to add a couple tablespoons of water if the paste is too thick. Because I most likely used more olives, no extra liquid was required (see note). Covered, this tapenade will keep in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

The author suggest serving the tapenade with pita crisps or baguette rounds, and also suggests using it as a spread in a sandwich. Delicious.

I served the tapenade with browned flatbread triangles.
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The recipe states that Pecorino or Parmesan could replace the Foja de Noce.
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* I used Castelvetrano olives, which aren’t dry cured, but they’re the only Sicilian olives I could get my hands on.

note: I’m not going to rant (again) on poorly written recipes, but honestly, 1/3 cup of olives? About four olives fit into my measuring cup and so I gave up and decided to pit them first, then I weighed out 3 ounces. It perhaps wasn’t quite the right ratio, but the end result was delicious nonetheless. The rest of the recipe I followed exactly, because I was so intrigued with the ingredients, especially the smoked almonds and honey.

verdict: I will make this. Over and over again. It’s my new favorite spread.