The word “pecorino” cheese is a recent invention: untill the end of the second world war, Italians used to talk generally about “cacio cheese”.
Pecorino is the Italian name given to any fresh, medium aged or matured cheeses made from sheep's milk, unless classifed otherwise since some Pecorino Toscano cheeses may also be made with a combination of sheep and cow's milk.
The fresh (fresco) Pecorino cheeses are soft, white cheeses with a mild, slightly lemony flavor, such as Ricotto Pecorino or Ricotta Salata. Their texture can range from soft and moist to crumbly and granular. As the Pecorino varieties age, the bone-colored paste becomes darker in color with a firmer texture and a saltier flavor.
The collected milk is settled to coagulate at a temperature of 35-38 degrees, by means of cheese-rennet; the curd is then smashed in parts as big as a nut and then left to drip and stew; in the end cheese's makers add salt. Pecorino cheeses have different features according to the manufacturing areas.
A variety that is often eaten young is known as Pecorino Toscano, made in Tuscany. As a young cheese it has a whiter colored meat that is creamier in texture, providing a somewhat nutty flavor. Versions of this cheese are also made with cow's milk, which can typically be detected by the yellowish tint to the cheese. Another Tuscan Pecorino is the Pecorino Senese or Senesi, which is a cheese that has a reddish rind due to the rind being rubbed with tomato paste. In years past, the rind was rubbed with sheep's blood and noted for its red exterior however, regulations enacted for the cheese have substituted tomato paste in order to maintain the red appearance of past cheeses.
The most popular of the aged pecorino is the Pecorino Romano, which has a hard yellow rind with a yellowish white interior. This cheese is typically aged for 8 months to a year before being eaten. Sharp in flavor, it is a cheese that is thinly sliced or served grated.
It is the name for the Pecorino cheeses produced in Sardinia. Redentore - A Sardinian Pecorino, this cheese is soft and greenish in color and obtained from whey of the island's sheep milk. It is a very palatable product and has a cylindrical form with a smooth and dark cheese rind. It is a whole cheese 22-24 cm in diameter and can weigh upto 3 or 4 kilos.
Shardano - another Pecorino, this soft cheese has a white color which during maturation turns to a soft straw color. When youn it has a tender taste which becomes stronger over the six months maturing period.
It is the name for the Pecorino cheeses produced in Sicily. The most well known of their cheeses is the Canestrato, or Incanestrato as it is also known, and the Pepato. Canestrato is a made by placing the cheese curds in baskets where the whey is drained off as the curds bond together with the irregular shape of the basketweave forming the shape of the outer rind. Aged for up to 6 months the cheese is sold as a young cheese while the sharper and more aromatic cheeses aged for up to a year are sold as grating or slivered snacking cheese with meats, breads, and over pasta. The Sicilian Pepato is a variety of Pecorino that has black peppercorns added to the meat of the cheese to enhance the flavor. Available as fresh or an aged cheese, Pecorino Pepato has a flavor that is mildly salty and peppery that becomes spicier with age. As it ages, this cheese becomes a good cheese for grating to be used for baked potatoes, grilled vegetables such as corn on the cob, or for pasta dishes. Select Pepato that has a bone white color and a mild aroma for best results.
As the Pecorino ages, they may become too dry and too strong or "sheepy" tasting. Select young to year old chesses, making sure they are not cracked or molded in appearance.
Traditionally, Pecorino is produced with a salted rind that is painted black. Dont be tempted by pecorino with added tuffle of chillis as these are newcomers. The beauty of pecorino is the subtle taste variations from region to region a result of the milk used, length of maturation etc.
Up to 10 months
Pecorino is excellent if flavoured with a bit of extra-virgin pure olive oil. For an appropriate tasting the cheeses must be taken out from the refrigerator at least one hour before being eaten, in order to let it gain that natural softness and make it emphasize its taste.
Pecorino cheeses can be a good substitute to Parmesan, although sharper in flavor than Parmesan, all aged varieties are considered to be good grating cheeses for toppings on salads, pasta and vegetable dishes. Pecorino can also be served as a dessert cheese, with honey drizzled over the top.
Since the aged Pecorino cheeses are much sharper tasting, they are generally sliced as thin shavings to be combined with meat, fruits or breads.
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