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Tuma Persa, the Lost Cheese

A recipe, missing for a century, makes a comeback.
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You find funny things when you move into a new home. In the case of Salvatore Passalaqua, a well-regarded Sicilian cheesemaker, he experienced a stroke of incredible luck when he moved into his new house in the hills outside Palermo. In a closet he found a recipe for an artisinal cheese that had not been made for more than 100 years. Lucky for him, he had all the tools needed to re-create this lost treasure using traditional methods and equipment. Today he is the sole producer of Tuma Persa or “Lost Cheese,” producing it in Castranova di Sicilia near Palermo in Sicily.

Tuma Persa is extremely flavorful, but not salty. Made from raw cow’s milk, it has an earthy taste with a sharp finish. The rind is coated with crushed peppercorn, which further adds to its complex flavor. Though it first appeared in the States fewer than five years ago, Tuma Persa already has a following. It’s become Passalaqua’s number one–selling cheese, says Joe Macaluso of Musco Food Corp., one of the only companies that imports this rare cheese in the U.S.

Macaluso, always on the hunt for a unique product to bring over to the American consumer, had read about this lost cheese and set out to find it. “I went to Sicily looking for this cheese several years back and went to a trade show called Cheese Art. I said to my wife, who was traveling with me, ‘This is a shot in a dark.’” Almost as soon as he said it, he stumbled upon a small booth displaying the famed cheese.  

Macaluso says Tuma Persa is best enjoyed by itself or with a savory item, like Sicilian Caponnata. And it’s wonderful paired with indigenous Sicilian wines such as Nero d’Avola, Syrah, Malvasia Lipari and Passito di Pantelleria. Retailing for about $19.99 a pound, it can be found at specialty stores such as Grace’s Market Place, Iavarone Bros., Wine Library, DeCicco Family Markets and Casa Della Mozzarella.—Denise Shoukas


Denise Shoukas is a regular foodspring.com contributor and is the author of foodspring’s food forager blog.

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