When it comes to entertaining this summer, may I suggest this age-old adage: Less is more. As visually appealing as a charcuterie board with a colorful mix of cheeses and dips and all sorts of fixings may be, simplicity can just as easily outshine abundance.
This season we’re taking inspiration from New York–based chef Hillary Sterling of Vic’s with one single cheese spread: whipped Pecorino. Yes, whipped. Pecorino is, of course, a hard cheese, which is part of what makes this dish so appealing. The idea, Sterling explains, came to her while brainstorming a special menu at the famed James Beard House that combined a fellow chef’s Middle Eastern cuisine with her own seasonal Italian fare. “We were doing this whole mezze concept. Italian mezze, essentially—to combine our two worlds,” she says.
An unexpected alternative to tangy labneh, Sterling’s emulsion of grated Pecorino, water, and olive oil, which she combines with Greek yogurt, perfectly captures the spirit of classic Middle Eastern dips, but with her favorite Italian cheese in the starring role. “I love Pecorino,” she says.
“I love eating it. It has all the flavor profiles that I love: acidic, earthy, nutty. It has a brightness to it, a little funk.”
The whipped cheese, which Sterling serves with sliced pieces of fresh-from-the-oven pizza bianca, has been a mainstay on the restaurant’s menu for more than a year now. “We go through this much Pecorino on a Saturday,” Sterling says, holding up a hulking, 13-pound quarter wheel of cheese.
The concept of a hard cheese transformed into a creamy new texture pairs well with Sterling’s style of cooking in general. At Vic’s, her menu is often a study in contrasts: earthy flavors offset with the tang of red wine vinegar, and sweet golden raisins paired with zippy green onions to enhance the roasted flavor of grilled asparagus. While most of the cooking at Vic’s is best left to the experts, the whipped Pecorino is easy enough to re-create—just make sure you have a strong blender, like a Vitamix, on hand.
- 1 lb grated pecorino
- 2 cups water
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 32 oz 5% plain Greek yogurt
- Add water to the blender, followed by the grated Pecorino.
- Begin blending at low speed, occasionally adding more water as needed. You may need to occasionally push contents down with a spatula. Be careful not to overheat the mixture by overblending.
- Pour the mixture in a bowl. The consistency should be that of a light batter.
- Gently fold in yogurt with a spatula.
- Garnish with a light sprinkle of olive oil, and serve with bread, crisp sliced vegetables, etc.
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