Thursday, June 2, 2011

Cheese: Pecorino Romano

Pecorino Romano is a hard Italian cheese made out of sheep's milk ("pecora" means sheep in Italian) primarily in Sardinia. 
It is one of Italy's oldest cheeses and is a name protected DOC (denominazione di originale controllata) cheese, the Italian equivalent of the French AOC (appellation d'origine controlee) and the European Union PDO (protected designation of origin). The Roman agronomist Columella gave an account of how to make it in the first century AD and it was a staple in the diet of the Roman legionaries (they were issued an ounce a day). It was made in the vicinity of Rome (where the "Romano" comes from) up until 1884 when the Rome city council prohibited the salting of cheeses in their shops. That was when much of the production moved to the island of Sardinia. Now Pecorino Romano is made in the regions of Lazio, Tuscany and Sardinia, regions that have similar pastures and breeds of sheep, between the months of November and June. It has a very sharp, salty flavor. The sharpness gets greater with maturation, which can be from five months for a table cheese to at least eight months for a grating cheese which would be used primarily in pasta dishes. Columella, describing the manufacturing process, said that the sheep's milk "is usually curdled with lamb or kid rennet...The milk bucket, when it is filled, must be kept warm...and as soon as the curds form they must be transferred to baskets or molds: Indeed, it's essential that the whey be drained off and separated from the solid matter immediately. It is for this reason that the farmers don't wait for the whey to drain away a drop at a time, but put a weight on the cheese as soon as it has firmed up, thus driving out the rest of the whey. When the cheese is removed from the baskets or molds, it must be placed in a cold dark place lest it spoil, on perfectly clean boards, covered with salt to draw out its acidic fluids." The process is much the same today. After the molds are pressed, for the first few days, the cheese is turned and rubbed with coarse salt daily, then every three to four days and then weekly. This goes on for 80 to 100 days. The cheese is then aged on pine boards for five months. We had Locatelli Brand aged for nine months. 
It had a white, hazy mold on the outside and was very, very sharp, as much of a bite as any cheese I've ever had. It is very strong and salty. One site said, "If you're someone who loves your cheese just about as much as you love your salt, you'll want to learn more about Pecorina Romano. It's salt in cheese form." 
Well said. Judy commented that it was very acidic, dries out the tongue, leaves a real after-taste. It was not her favorite, it was almost too much. Others in our tasting group commented that it was kind of sour, very salty, that it would be great over pasta or with olive oil (olive oil sounds great to me). For this old salt, I found it amazing. Definitely my favorite of the hard cheeses. It is also one of the 1001 Foods You Must Taste Before You Die

1 comment:

  1. is it ok to eat the white mold on the outside or must it be cut off?