[Sca-cooks] Tuma-tuma-tuma-ay

Christiane christianetrue at earthlink.net
Tue Jan 5 13:38:06 PST 2010

OK, ever since I brought up that 16th-century description of Sicilian pasta covered with cheeses dripping with butter and milk, and theorized that it is tuma, I have been on the search for a good description of Sicilian fresh tuma cheese (and not tuma d'paja, which is from the Piedmont and aged under straw, or primo sale, which is aged, salted tuma).

Anyway, I found an excellent description of it, as well as some local and regional cheese-making practices, in, of all things, a 2006 article about an outbreak of brucellosis in a Sicilian village during the Nativity celebration:


"Tuma is a typical Sicilian fresh cheese made from sheep's milk. It has a cylindrical appearance and is sold fresh, no more than 2 days old. It has no crust, and the dough is white or ivory-white without holes. The texture is very soft, tender, and wet. It is generally served with ham, wines, and fruits as a table cheese."

So the initial thoughts from Adamantius of using fresh mozzarella for a 16th-century pasta adornment is not far off, but being that mozzarella is made from buffalo or cows' milk and tuma made from sheep's milk, I think the taste might be different. 

And here's some stuff from that same article about ricotta and shepherd's practices with it:

"Technically, ricotta is not a cheese, but rather is a cheese by-product. The name 'ricotta' means cooked again, referencing the production method. Ricotta is made from whey drained from tuma, provolone, and other cheeses. ... Being cooked 2 times, ricotta should not contain viable Brucella organisms; however, shepherds sprinkle fresh milk on wicker baskets to refresh the ricotta they contain, thereby contaminating the product."

I'll hit a few gourmet cheese shops in the Philadelphia area and do some tasting; perhaps one of them carries a tuma that resembles the Sicilian original; otherwise, it's sounding more and more like fresh mozzarella will make the best substitute.

(I'm doing this research because I plan to talk about Sicilian food at an upcoming cooks' schola, and I would love to make a taganu d'aragona to share with the class; I'd be happy to find tuma, but I'll probably use fresh mozzarella instead. Although the description of tuma d'paja, with its soft, wrinkled white rind, does make it sound like certain packaged mozzarellas.)

Adelisa di Salerno

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