Caciocavallo is a Formaggio a Pasta Filata or Quark and belongs to the family of Mozzarella, Scamorza, Provolone and Halloumi. For this, cow’s milk quark is kneaded by hand in hot water and stretched until it looks like a fabulously long scarf made of white putty. The process at this point is almost exactly the same as with mozzarella, in which the lengths are squeezed into balloon-like balls and mozzat (cut). For caciocavallo, however, the stretched lengths are rolled into balls, then soaked in brine before they are tied neck to neck with ropes in pairs and hung to mature a cavallo or ridden over a beam or pole. Some say this location provides the name, but there are several other legends.
The hanging also exaggerates the shape, which is like a pear or a teardrop. Or a Japanese okiagari-koboshi, a roly-poly toy that returns to an upright position every time you try it – a symbol of perseverance and resilience that seem especially useful these days. At a young age (one to three months), Caciocavallo is pale, tender, bounces like a child’s cheek when pressed and has a mild and milky taste. With age it becomes firmer and the taste becomes deeper, nuttier and almost spicy. All age groups can be eaten just like that, grated for cooking or cut into cubes, and are suitable for this week’s recipe, Cacio all’argentiera (cheese-silversmith-style), as are the rest of the family (mozzarella, scamorza, provolone, Halloumi …). There is, of course, a legend that the dish on Via dell’Argenteria in Palermo was invented by a silversmith’s wife who couldn’t afford a rabbit, creating a dish with an equally enviable smell. The smell is quite extraordinary, because oregano – which is the best here, warm and wild – meets the sweetness of honey, acidity of vinegar and just a little chili, then everything settles in the folds of the melted cheese.
Some recipes for cacio all’argentiera suggest that the cheese slices should stay intact and have a deep, golden crust, but I’m not sure how this reconciles with melting the cheese, which is important when the other ingredients mix mix and sink. And a melted mass is certainly part of the fun – scooping up the chaos of cheese with a corner of bread or French fries. For me, this dish is Sicily in summer: Cooking dinner on our flat roof parking lot in the middle of Gela, drinking cheap, cold wine and baking cheese on a grill whose thin legs look as if they should really kink, but never do – and apparently make the neighbors jealous with the tempting smell.
Fried cheese with honey, oregano and vinegar
preparation 5 minutes
cook 10 mins
Serves 4 as a starter or divided dish, 2 as a main course
1 tbsp liquid honey
1-2 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 large pinch of dried oregano
1 prize red chilli flakes
1 prize Salt-
4 x 5-6 mm thick slices Caciocavallo, Scamorza, Provola or 8 Cut the halloumi into slices
In a small bowl, whisk the honey, vinegar, oregano, chilli, and salt with a fork.
Heat some olive oil in a pan over medium heat, then add the cheese slices and cook for three minutes, or until a light crust has formed. Turn over with a spatula (don’t worry if it sticks a bit) and cook for another three minutes so that the slices bubble easily and, although they haven’t collapsed completely, are fairly melted.
Pour the honey mixture over the cheese, let it bubble for 10 seconds, then turn off the heat, cover and let rest for a minute before serving.
To cook this on a grill, take a double layer of foil and grind the edges into a lip. Rub the inside of the pack with olive oil and place on a cool spot on the grill for a minute, then place the cheese in it and simmer until it bubbles. Pour over the honey mixture and let it simmer for a few minutes before serving.