Tomini in Oil

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Marinating in oil in big glass jars on retail counters, petite tomini look like the sort of fresh French or American goat cheese that you might warm and serve on top of a salad. In fact, tomini (the singular is tomino) are made of cow's milk and shipped here from Italy. Although they could certainly be warmed for a salad, their more traditional destination is the antipasto platter.

Weighing about 2 ounces each, a single tomino would comfortably serve two if accompanied by some roasted peppers, cherry tomatoes or marinated zucchini, a few thin slices of salami and a handful of olives. What an easy and appealing summer first course that would be.

Fresca Italia, gets its tomini from Guffanti, an affinatore (cheese ager) in the Piedmont region best known for Gorgonzola. Guffanti acknowledges that the tomini come from northern Italy, but won't be more specific. Such a simple, straightforward cheese could be made anywhere, and probably is, so it's unlikely that any region would claim it as its own.

Made with pasteurized milk, in rounds about 2 inches in diameter and less than an inch in height, the fresh disks are brined briefly, then packed in safflower or sunflower oil with mixed herbs and red chile flakes. Olive oil would taste better but would cause these fragile young cheeses to break down, according to Guffanti. They will last in the jars for months, although the rounds at the bottom start to show some wear from being bumped around as retailers fish cheese out for customers.

Tomini are rindless, stark white, smooth and creamy, with a pronounced tartness and a silky cloak of herbed oil. They become more tangy and yeasty as they age -- not unattractive qualities.

With such an uncomplicated cheese, serve an uncomplicated wine, like one of the fresh, dry rosés - Saintsbury's Vincent Vin Gris, a lively dry rosé from Pinot Noir, is particularly good.

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