The Big Cheese
Pecorino not limited to one distinct style
Most folks are often referring to Pecorino Romano - the queen to Parmigiano-Reggiano's king. In saying pecorino, they are actually referring to any cheese that is made with sheep's milk in Italy (the Italian word
for sheep is pecora). Pecorino Romano, furthermore, translates to little sheep's milk cheese of Rome.
The excellent thing is that there are at least two dozen cheeses with the moniker that come to mind, not to mention the many that never make it to the states, moreover leave their respective region's marketplace.
Pecorino Romano is considered a grana, or grating cheese, because of its hard texture. It's also very salty, which does not make for an ideal snacking cheese, although true lovers of Romano might eat it
alongside some salami and crusty bread. Other pecorini vary in texture and flavor. They can be soft, semi-soft, semi-hard, and of course hard.
The second well-known pecorino is from Tuscany, Pecorino Toscano, which can be found semi-soft or semi-hard, depending on the aging process. Young Toscano is aged 20 days up to 60 days and is mild and
creamy while the older, or stagionato, Toscani are aged four to six months and have a peppery flavor with accents of olive on the palate. The stagionato Toscani are the most common found in the states, and can
be found in both pasteurized and raw-milk versions. Often they are rubbed with olive oil or tomato paste during the aging process. If you can, seek out the tomato paste version which adds a nice sweet and tart
quality to the cheese.
Pecorino Toscano can be used as a grating cheese, but its ideal as a snacking cheese with some olives and a nice glass of Chianti.
Tuscany also produces a fabulous Pecorino studded with black truffles, called pecorino tartufello, which also comes in young or aged varieties. Again, the aged style is more common and ideal for snacking, and
even better with risotto or in an omelet or frittata.
Other pecorini to try are pecorino ginepro and pecorino di fossa. Ginepro is an extremely gorgeous cheese from the southern Lazio region. Its granite-chocolate colored rind drifts to a reddish-orange color before
you get to the wheat-colored interior paste of the cheese. The rind's exterior color comes from the continual bathing of the cheese with balsamic vinegar and juniper berries. The juniper also adds pine notes to
the cheese's nutty and slightly sweet flavors.
Pecorino di fossa is a cool little cheese from the Emilia-Romagna region, which boasts an even cooler story. In the 12th century, the region was raided and many rounds of cheese were wrapped in sacks and
buried in wells to protect them from the Saracens. The cheeses fermented in those wells, developing a rindless and misshapen cheese with a musky flavor. The cheese is still produced in the same manner, aged
for three months and brought out on Nov. 25 in celebration of St. Catherine's Day.
The musky and slightly bitter quality of the cheese calls for a light, fruity wine such as a sparkling Lambrusco or Prosecco.
So, next time you're searching for a pecorino, don't be sheepish. We cheese mongers can point you in the right direction.
Wendy Hunsinger is the specialty-food manager for Katzinger's in German Village.