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An Italian cheese with regional variations

Many different types of pecorino exist, given that each region makes its own traditional artisan pecorino cheese.

When we arrange a cheese platter, we usually set out different types of cheese. We may put one cheese with a surface mould, one soft cheese, one hard cheese, or we might choose one sheep milk cheese, one cow milk cheese and one goat milk cheese. But how about preparing a cheese platter with just one type of cheese, including all its different regional variations?

Young Pecorino Cheese - 300/600/1200g

Young Pecorino Cheese - 300/600/1200g

The cheese alchemist Andrea De’ Magi has once again managed to show that he could create excellent cheeses despite - or perhaps thanks to - their simplicity. The young pecorino by De’ Magi is staple food in Italian cuisine, as well as a best-seller of the cheese alchemist. The tastiness and freshness of this fresh pecorino made with pasteurised sheep milk will leave you wanting more. It has a very thin rind which is not treated with any preservatives and so it can… no, it must, be eaten, because it helps forming the unique flavour of the cheese. The rind is often washed with lukewarm water to remove any traces of mould which can appear given the lack of treatment. The paste of this pecorino cheese is white and compact, but its main feature is undoubtedly its softness: even when kept at room temperature, this fresh pecorino tends to become softer and creamy. It has a scent of cream and fresh butter and a sweet flavour with hints of fresh grass. These extraordinary properties earned it a third place in the fresh pecorino category in the contest Trofeo San Lucio in 2014. The young pecorino by De’ Magi is perfect as a starter and, thanks to its consistency that melts without forming strings, it is a perfect ingredient for creamy risotto and pasta dishes or fondues.

Raw-milk Pecorino Cheese "Gioia del Pastore" (Sheperd's joy) - 400/800/1600g

This pecorino cheese by Andrea De’ Magi is called “gioia del pastore”, the shepherd’s joy, because it embodies the love and devotion that the shepherd and affineur put into their work and into the care for their flocks. This pecorino cheese comes from an artisan dairy where young people are devoted to this hard but gratifying job. This cheese is completely handmade and the end product quality also depends on the well-being of sheep providing the raw material: the flocks live in optimal hygiene conditions and are continuously tended. “La gioia del pastore” is a raw-milk pecorino cheese, but the secret behind its success lies in the washing process which is carried out in a particular way, giving the cheese a truly unique flavour. The care and excellent work of the shepherd are complemented by the skills of Andrea De’ Magi, a very successful cheese refiner. Andrea always make sure that his cheeses age in the best ripening conditions and combines traditional natural techniques, such as using caves to let cheeses age in, with modern technologies, in order to always guarantee the best quality and the respect of hygiene standards.   The raw-milk pecorino “Gioia del pastore”, which has a rind with a different consistency and is hence called “bucciato”, has won many awards: in 2012 it was awarded best raw-milk farm cheese in the national contest ALMA CASEUS and in 2016 it came third in the farm cheese category during the same contest. “La gioia del pastore” is characterised by a cream and fresh butter smell with grass notes, as well as a slightly salty flavour. It is ideal as part of a cheese platter, together with a pasteurised-milk cheese which can best enhance its excellent sensory properties.
Raw-milk Pecorino Cheese "Gioia del Pastore" (Sheperd's joy) - 400/800/1600g

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Interesting facts

It is not enough to say “Pecorino”

Calling it just “pecorino” is actually quite simplistic. There is the Tuscan pecorino, the Pecorino from Roma and the Pecorino from Sardinia… Let’s take a look at them all.

Pecorino toscano cheese

Tuscan Pecorino obtained the PDO certification in 1996. It is one of the most ancient cheeses in Italy, dating back to Etruscan and Roman times. Today, just like back in the days, it is made with the milk of ewes reared on Tuscan pastures. It is processed and aged in Tuscany, too.

In Tuscany we also call it cacio; it was actually Pliny the Elder who mentioned this term for the first time in its masterpiece ‘Naturalis Historia’. However, it wasn’t until the 15th century that cacio marzolino started to become common, as it was particularly loved by noble families, such as the Medici. Everyone found it delicious and it was considered one of the best Italian cheeses. 

I think that it’s important to mention one particular feature of Tuscan cheese. Although PDO Tuscan Pecorino cheese is delicious, with a unique, perfectly balanced sweet and sapid flavour, pecorino can come in many different shapes and flavours. It is one of those cheeses that you always have on hand and that you can eat at the end of a meal or give to your kids (or keep for yourself) as a mid-afternoon snack.

We meet dairymen and cheese refiners all the time, who put great care and creativity into the production of this Italian cheese, without following PDO product specifications, though.

I would argue in favour of all these pecorino cheeses made in Tuscany, which are not officially recognised as ‘Tuscan pecorino cheese’. They still have that authentic taste which characterises this cheese, and by undergoing fine-tuned and creative refining, have new and unique flavour nuances.

That’s why you can find grape skins, olive leaves, cocoa and aromatic herbs on the rind. When you taste them, you’re always in for a surprise and these pecorino cheeses, with or without the PDO certification, maintain the good reputation of pecorino in this region.

Another interesting feature of PDO Tuscan Pecorino cheese is that its paste can have very different textures. Pecorino can have a soft or semi-hard paste, depending on the aging period: the former ages for at least 20 days, while the latter for at least 4 months.

Pecorino romano cheese

There has been much talk about PDO Pecorino romano: it is called ‘Roman’, but the majority of production takes place in Sardinia, as also stated by the product specifications themselves. However, there are a lot of dairies that still make this pecorino cheese where it is originally from, the Tiber valley.

So, is this Italian cheese from Lazio or from Sardinia? We could say both, let’s overcome labels this time around. After all, Sardinian people know how to make cheese and sheep graze on wonderful natural pastures. Pecorino romano, whether it is produced in Sardinia, Lazio or near Grosseto, is made with the milk of local cattle breeds which graze on uncontaminated pastures full of wild herbs giving a lot of aromas. 

Let’s get back to Roman pecorino cheese. It is a hard cheese and it is often used as grate cheese, just like Parmigiano Reggiano and Grana Padano. It actually is the main ingredient of some pasta dishes, such as Amatriciana or Cacio e Pepe. 

Roman Pecorino cheese dates back to Roman times, of course. The poet Virgil told us that one Roman soldier would eat 27g of Roman Pecorino cheese per day, which would give him enough energy to fight and travel. It was quite widespread, because of its production technique and long preservation.

Roman pecorino production is very interesting. The weight of cheese wheels can range from 20 to 35 kg; the cheese undergoes four salting steps and the rind, which can also have an ivory colour, usually is black. It is a very flavourful, but not excessively salty, cheese which is slightly spicy and always very tasty. The aging period lasts around six months for Roman pecorino table cheese and at least eight months for Roman Pecorino grate cheese.

Pecorino sardo cheese

Let’s finish our journey through the lands of Pecorino in Sardinia. We have already mentioned that this island is also home to the production of PDO Pecorino romano cheese, but another PDO cheese is produced here, which is closer to local tradition: Sardinian pecorino cheese.

PDO Pecorino sardo has two different aging periods: “mature” Pecorino cheese and “young” Pecorino cheese.

PDO mature Sardinian Pecorino cheese ages for a long time - over six months -, during which it develops a particular, spicy, intense and enveloping flavour which makes it ideal both as table and as grate Italian cheese.

This cheese is a staple for Sardinian people, just like Tuscan Pecorino is for Tuscan people.

The fact that Pecorino cheese is eaten on a daily basis makes this Italian cheese one of those products that we always stock up on. And there’s something poetic and reassuring about it.