Pecorino is a cheese made with just sheep (pecora) or lamb milk and is characterized by a strong and salty taste.
Probably you have already heard about the pecorino romano, which is the one mostly used in food recipes or just the most famous outside his country of origin, however, this one is not the only kind you can find in commerce. In Italy, especially in the centre and in the south (transhumance zone) where is bigger the breeding of sheep(in opposition on the large cow breeding of the north with the production of parmesan style cheese) there are many different varieties of Pecorino and today we will explain to you the differences referring to the stagionatura (aging) and provenienza (provenance)
As it would be very difficult and long to talk about all of them, we will introduce you to the most famous pecorino style:
Pecorino Toscano PDO (protected designation of origin) (from Tuscany region) made from ewe’s rennet, there are references to this cheese since year 77 DC from Pliny the Elder, in his major encyclopedic work Naturalis Historia. This cheese is made from a mix of sheep breed (pretty much Massanese sheep with a small part Sardinians and Comisana) that are grazed extensively in herb-rich Toscanian soils, to make it high in vitamin E and A. This pecorino has a more delicate and harmonious taste compared to the other pecorino, but also a distinctive and different taste from many other generic cheeses made from cow’s milk or mixed milk.
Pecorino Romano PDO ( from Lazio region) made from young lamb rennet, take part in the Naturalis Historia but also has an extended range of Latin author prizing this cheese. Was largely use to enrich the legionaries meal. Nowadays tradition wants it to be consumed in May during the season of fava beans, simply having a semi-dried slice of this pecorino and raw broad beans. The definition of romano (roman) coming indeed from his ancient tradition and not just from its origin, indeed a large production of this cheese happen in Sardinia, not only in Rome, being the second largest cheese produced after the Sardinian pecorino.
Pecorino Siciliano PDO (from Sicily region) Pecurinu Sicilianu in Sicilian language. This type is similar to the other central Italian pecorino’s version but is actually made following the ancient Greek tradition. Omero in the Odyssey wrote “He curdled half the milk and set it aside in wicker strainers”, here Ulysses talk about Polyphemus’s art of cheese making, reporting us the techniques used to produce the cheese and partially still the same.
The outside of this pecorino is yellowish/brown due to the signs left by the fascedde, the characteristic basket in which it’s placed. The inside is white and compact and the amount of oil released during the cut, reveals the fat content that it gives a stronger flavor to this cheese. Very popular the variety with pistachio (also from Sicily) or black peppercorns.
Pecorino Sardo PDO (from Sardinia) made from young lamb rennet, usually unpasteurized, after a brief period in brine, the molds are lightly smoked and left to ripen in cool cellars. Also, the pecorino Sardo can be processed in Casu Marzu by the introduction of cheese fly larvae. Due to the high risk of food poisoning, this procedure is not approved by the EU and the sale is illegal. Anyway, Casu Marzu is a pride of the Sardinian tradition and local people seems not to care about the risks and keep eating it for ages without any worry. We’re quite sure that if you go in that wonderful island, you will probably find someone ready to offer you a slice of "Casu".
All the pecorino cheese is usually smoother and rich than the pecorino romano that is biting and salty.
The consistency and the flavor depend also on aging time.
There’s three different aging period: young, semi-dry and dry. Usually, the first two stages are perfect to be eaten on their own with some honey, marmalade, chutney or raw vegetables ( like for the pecorino romano and fresh broad beans mentioned above). This young drying process gives to this cheese a creamy and smooth texture and definitely lighter than the dryer one.
The dry aged instead is usually used to cook as it’s perfect to enrich pasta and legumes. Usually stronger in flavor and texture due to the low moist that it gives a slightly saltier punch.
It is possible to find many different variants of this cheese among Italian delis and the most popular are with pistachio, chilly flakes and black peppercorns, but each region has its own touch to add, for example, we have tried pecorino from Calabria with Nduja and it was amazing, one of the best we ever had!.
If you are curious about how to use this marvelous product, you should check our amazing Cacio e Pepe recipe: