Dateline: Olbia, Italy
Aboard Oceania Cruise Ship, The Riviera
We docked at Olbia’s port midday after the longish overnight voyage from Marseilles. This was my first visit to the island – the island from which I have tasted many excellent sheep milk cheeses. The Pecorino Sardo has been one of my all-time favorites; something like it has been produced all around the Mediterranean for millennia. The Fiore Sardo is a one-of-a-kind itself, another outstanding cheese from the island.
Sardegna also supports some goats, their cheeses are by nearly as well known. I was determined to find an artisan goat cheese during our short visit on the island. I asked the land agent where I might find some of the best cheeses of Sardegna. At first she suggested supermarkets but I let her know this what not what I had in mind – shopping for cheese in a supermarket. She said she agreed that those were not her favorites either. She pulled out a map of Olbia and drew paths to three different destinations.
Finding an open cheese shop in Europe in the early afternoon is nearly impossible so we waited until later to go ashore on our expedition. The closest shop to where our shuttle dropped us off was more of a tourist restaurant so we kept walking up the old town’s main street, barely wide enough for a single lane of traffic. The town was more tropical than I expected, with palm trees here and there, and very warm sun. The gentle sea breeze made the direct sun tolerable. By 4:00 pm the town seemed to be gradually awakening from its siesta.
When we located the second location recommended it was immediately apparent that this was where we needed to be. The shop’s owner greeted us warmly and offered us samples of whatever cheeses we wanted to taste, as well as a few others I was less interested in trying. All his products were from Sardegna: the cheeses, the honeys, the breads, the nougats, the cork sandals, the wines, and everything else. He told the story of how his grandfather had opened the shop in 1919 in a different building around the corner, and how he had received visitors from around the globe, always offering samples of everything.
My intention was to have a small selection of Sardinian cheese with a little Sardinian wine while in Olbia. (We had already filled up our stateroom’s refrigerator with leftover cheese and wine from previous stops so there was little extra room there.) Serving a little degustation of cheese and wine was not what Pietro was set up to do but this was Sardegna and everything seemed possible, no trouble at all. I picked out the smallest pre-cut piece of a young raw sheep milk cheese I could find, weighing about half a kilo, and a light crisp Vermentino wine. He did not have wine glasses but he did have small plastic cups. He did not have a table either but he did have a couple chairs on the sidewalk in front of the store. Pietro told the men sitting in them to surrender the chairs to his new NYC cheese friends. I was uncomfortable asking these older men to give up their seats but there was no stopping Pietro and they seemed to take it all in stride. When I asked Pietro if the police might give him trouble for serving cheese and wine outside by the street he gave me a look as if to say: are you serious?
He could not sell us just a small chunk of cheese and a couple glasses of Vermentino so we stuffed the remainder in our fridge.
I am sure they will taste fine when we finish them later but probably no where nearly as nice as they did when we had them at Pietro’s shop.
No goat cheese there but I still had a couple more ports to check.
- Max McCalman