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Just about any sheep’s milk cheese would be a compatible partner for these seasoned olives. Try pecorino toscano, France’s Abbaye de Belloc, Carr Valley Marisa from Wisconsin or a Spanish Manchego. Aged goat cheeses, such as Dutch goat Gouda or Spanish Garrotxa, would work, too. The olives improve if made a day ahead. Let stand at room temperature, covered, and rewarm gently before serving with cocktails or the evening’s first glass of wine. Adapted from The Cheese Course.
1 cup unpitted green olives, such as Picholine or Lucques
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 bay leaves, coarsely broken
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon fennel seed, coarsely crushed in a mortar or spice grinder
1 dried red chile pepper
1/2 pound sheep’s milk cheese
With the side of a cleaver or large knife, gently smack the green olives to crack them; don’t pound too hard or you will smash them.
Heat the olive oil in a small skillet over moderate heat. Add the bay leaves, oregano and fennel seed. Break the chili pepper in half and sprinkle some or all of the seeds into the skillet; add the chili pods to the skillet, too. Cook the seasonings briefly to release their fragrance, then add the olives. Cook, stirring, into the olives are hot throughout, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and let stand until they are just warm.
Trim the cheese of any rind and cut into thin slices or small cubes. Put the cheese on one end of a serving platter and spoon the olives, with their seasonings, alongside.