Oh pecorino. Probably my favorite cheese in Italy, this sheep milk, formaggio is a dietary staple. It is enjoyed, fresh and aged and there are four main varieties (plus endless variations within them).
The four major types of Pecorino you should know about are:
Pecorino Romano, Pecorino Sardo, Pecorino Toscano, Pecorino Siciliano. All four of these cheeses have DOP status. Wondering what DOP means? It stands for denominazione di origine protetta, which indicates the cheese is held to a strict standard based on where it was produced and how. For example, a pecorino sardo can’t be a pecorino sardo DOP unless it was made in Sardegna following their strict guidelines.
Next let’s look at these four main types of Pecorino so we can understand each one a bit better.
Pecorino Romano is a hard, salty, aged cheese that, despite it’s name, is produced in Sardinia, Lazio and the Tuscan province of Grosseto. It’s also one of the oldest varieties of cheeses in Italia, dating back almost two thousand years. Famous ancient Romans, such as Pliny the elder and Virgil extolled its virtues as part of a healthy diet.
Pecorino Sardo is a raw, hard cheese produced on the Italian island of Sardegna. Strict standards indicate that each cheese must be made from a single flock of local Sardinian sheep. This Pecorino is rich and can come in a variety of flavors, ranging from caramel sweet, to salty, to spicy or even floral.
Pecorino Toscano Unlike the other two Pecorino cheeses I mentioned, is a soft or semi hard cheese that is flavorful and fragrant, sometimes smelling of the local herbs and grass that the sheep ate. It is not however a pungent cheese and it shouldn’t smell strong or biting to the nose.
Pecorino Siciliano, instead, is easily the most unique of the four. This cheese is aged in special rattan baskets, giving the rind a particular, wrinkly exterior. Pecorino Siciliano is made from sheep milk of free grazing animals and the specific pastures of the Sicilian countryside impart an earthiness to the finished product. However, this is not a mild cheese; the flavor is intense and sometimes spicy. Interestingly, this cheese may be one of the oldest cheeses in Europe, as in 900 B.C. Homer quoted Ulysses in The Odyssey saying, “he curdled half the milk and set it aside in wicker strainers”. The wicker strainers give an indication that he was likely referring specifically to Pecorino Siciliano. Pliny the Elder (who must have really loved his pecorino) also wrote in the first century A.D. that he found the Pecorino Siciliano to be the best of all the varieties.
OK now I am hungry! Buon appetito!