Bring 4 1/2 cups water to a boil with 1 1/4 teaspoons salt and butter in a 4-quart heavy saucepan, then add polenta in a thin stream, whisking. Cook polenta at a bare simmer, whisking with a long-handled whisk and turning down heat as needed to prevent spattering, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in cheese. Serve sprinkled with black pepper.
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