Fiore Sardo (pronounced [ˈfjo.re ˈsar.do]) is a hard Italian cheese made from whole sheep’s milk and curdled with lamb or goat rennet. A member of the Pecorino family, Fiore Sardo is close to, but not to be confused with, Pecorino Sardo.
Fiore Sardo translates literally to “sardinian flower,” a reference that some attribute to the historical use of cardoon flowers as a natural rennet, and others to the use of wooden stamps with an engraved peony flower on the disk that made the cheese distinguishable from other varieties.
A cheese as ancient as cheeses tend to get, several sources date the recipe for Fiore Sardo as far back as the Bronze Age, a prehistoric period spanning from 3,100 BC to 1,200 BC when humans first started to make bronze.
Today, Fiore Sardo cheese carries a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) stamp from the Italian government and the European Union (EU), which means that only cheese produced in Sardinia, from 100% Sarda sheep’s milk can be labeled and sold as such.
Sardinia, Italy’s second-largest island on the Mediterranean Sea, has a population of 1.64 million (2019 census) and approximately 3 million sheep, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that this hard cheese has historically been some of its biggest exports.
Straw-yellow in color and with a dry and crumbly texture, Fiore Sardo cheese is firm and compact to the touch. When sampled, it has a strong scent of leather and wet smoke and a sharp, piquant, slightly nutty flavor.
Fiore Sardo is an aged cheese, the recipe for which has remained largely unchanged for millennia.
Whole sheep’s milk is curdled in copper cauldrons with the help of lamb rennet. The curd is collected and strained from the whey, then shaped in the form of a wheel, and rested for 24 hours.
The Fiore Sardo cheese wheels are then dipped in salty brine for 8 to 12 hours per kilogram. They are dried and smoked for approximately 14 days, then left to mature in rustic cellars, occasionally basted with white wine vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, and sea salt, for 8-10 months.
In recent years, blogger and food writer Janet Fletcher reports, most producers have reduced the salting and smoking of their cheese wheels to make the final product more appealing to the modern and international consumer.
“Although I tasted some old-school Fiore sardo in Sardinia, I like the new wave better,” Fletcher says.
A quintessential table cheese, Fiore Sardo can be eaten as an appetizer or aperitif on its own or thinly sliced and served on a salumi platter. The more mature the cheese, the crumblier the texture, which is why aged Fiore Sardo can be grated on top of Spaghetti Pomodoro or Parmigiana di Melanzane.
Pair Fiore Sardo cheese with a refreshing and fruity white wine such as Pinot Grigio or dark and dry wines such as Chianti or Sangiovese. If you’re the kind of person who likes to pop open an ice-cold can of beer instead, good pairings for Fiore Sardo are Pale Ale, Red Ale, and IPA.
Fiore Sardo cheese should always be kept refrigerated. Unopened, vacuum-sealed Fiore Sardo will last for up to 9 months in the fridge and up to 18 months in the freezer.
To thaw Fiore Sardo, transfer it to your fridge overnight. Depending on the size of the cheese block, it should be fully defrosted within 12 to 24 hours. Once thawed, this cheese is best eaten within a few days.
Opened Fiore Sardo cheese should be wrapped in a fabric that allows it to breathe, such as cheesecloth or parchment paper, and never plastic wrap. Kept refrigerated, it will stay good for 3-4 weeks.
Don’t leave Fiore Sardo—or any hard cheese, as a matter of fact—out for more than 1 hour. Room temperature causes the dairy fat to start melting and the cheese to begin sweating, which can sooner rather than later cause it to turn sour and go off.
Fiore Sardo and Pecorino Sardo are not the same cheese. Along with Pecorino Romano, they are two of the three sheep’s cheeses traditionally made on Italy’s second-largest island of Sardinia that carry a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) certification from the European Union (EU). Fiore Sardo is gamey and smokey, whereas Pecorino Sardo is piquant and sweet.
Fiore Sardo can be substituted with any hard Italian cheese made from sheep’s milk, such as Pecorino Romano, Pecorino Sardo, as well as other regional Pecorino varieties.
Fiore Sardo cheese isn’t suitable for vegetarians because its recipe calls for the use of animal rennet paste, which consists of an enzyme obtained from the fourth stomach of a calf or lamb.