This dish of olives, marinated along with cubes of fresh pecorino cheese, allows you to add another element to your entertaining spread with minimal effort. I’ve had marinated olives many times, but the addition of cheese is a relatively new discovery. After seeing it for the first time in a Spanish restaurant, I knew I had to find a way to bring it into my repertoire. We serve this at Chi Spacca, the meat-centric restaurant in the Mozza group, to go with the cured meats.
I selected the olives that I suggest in this recipe for their variety of sizes, shapes, and colors, from tiny black Niçoise to big green Castelvetrano. Use whatever you want and whatever you can find. I’m all for driving around to three stores in three separate neighborhoods (or towns, if I’m in Italy) if that’s to make a dish that I’m determined to make, but this is one that you should be able to knock out at one store. Fresh pecorino, also called cacio di Roma, is a young sheep’s milk cheese from Rome. It’s soft, like the texture of Jack cheese. It has a mild flavor, not to be confused with that of pecorino Romano, which is a very pungent, hard, grating cheese, and not what you want here. If you can’t find fresh pecorino, use fresh provolone or quality Jack cheese.
You can serve these olives on a buffet table along with the main meal, or as a starter to almost any meal.
Heat the olive oil in a medium sauté pan over medium-high heat until it slides easily in the pan and the oil around the edges of the pan begins to smoke, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the garlic cloves, reduce the heat to medium, and cook, stirring often, until the garlic cloves are deep golden brown and tender but not mushy when pierced with a small knife. Turn off the heat.
Combine the olives, rosemary, chile pods, bay leaves, and pepper in a large bowl and toss gently to combine. Add the garlic and its oil to the bowl with the olives and gently stir to coat the olives with the oil and combine the ingredients, being careful not to smash the garlic. You can make the olives to this point up to 2 weeks in advance. Refrigerate the olives in a covered container and bring them to room temperature before serving. Add the pecorino cubes and gently toss them into the mix just before serving. Transfer the olives to a small deep bowl and scatter the oregano leaves over the top. Serve the olives and cheese with a tiny fork for guests to grab the cheese cubes and a tiny bowl on the side for guests to put the pits in.