Cheese, glorious tuma persa cheese! Even my Sicilian cousin Evelina didn’t know what tuma persa was when I mentioned it to her this summer. It’s *that* unique! Back in July, during our heritage experience day with a family from New Jersey who have roots in Castronovo di Sicilia, our guide Pierfilippo organized a wonderful visit to Caseificio Passalacqua, the dairy farm that makes tuma persa, a specially-aged cow’s milk cheese. What is it exactly?
Let’s start from the beginning. Tuma is the first cheese created with fresh, cooked cow’s milk and rennet, right out of the cauldron and pressed into baskets to let the whey drain away. It’s a farmer’s cheese, and it should be eaten within a couple of days of its production. If you don’t eat it within 3 to 6 days, that same cheese ages to become primo sale cheese. Now, imagine that the cheese maker put this tuma cheese in a humid cave and forgot exactly where he left it.
Then, 10 days later, he finds all of his tuma (his “lost” tuma… i.e. tuma persa) in this humid cave… and it’s aged, but because of the climate and because it wasn’t salted at all, it has mold (come on now, you know… like gorgonzola and blue cheese!) on the outside. Oh, happy accidents! The cheese maker washes (brushes) as much of that mold off as he can, and then, he leaves the cheese wheel to age for another eight months. The result is a very sharp, earthy, with a bit of sweet overtone cheese (not moldy like those other two that I’m not a fan of at all!). It makes your mouth pucker. And it’s so good! Today, tuma persa is created in a very controlled, laboratory-like environment (a fake cave, if you will). It’s no longer lost, accept if you miss out on trying it when you are in Sicily.