Italian flavors: Tuscan pecorino
- WTI Magazine #131 Sep 19, 2020
Pecorino is an exquisite product with a long tradition. Ancient testimonies still exist that praise its qualities: in older times it was called “Marzolino” and in 1475 the humanist Bartolomeo Platina acclaimed it as the best cheese in Italy.
In 1832, Ignazio Malenotti, a member of the Linnean Society of Paris, published the “Shepherd’s Handbook” in which he described the best method for making Pecorino Toscano cheese. The price of cheese steadily increased from the late 19th to the early 20th century and sheep farming was resumed in Tuscany until the 1930s, when it suffered a serious decline.
In the 1960s, some Sardinian shepherds were attracted by the abandoned pastures and transferred their assets and traditions there. Thanks to them, sheep farming has enjoyed steady growth ever since. Today, the sector is in a situation of equilibrium: the Sardinian shepherds raise Sardinian sheep while those from Tuscany focus on other breeds.
PDO Pecorino Toscano is a soft or semi-hard paste cheese, made exclusively with whole sheep’s milk from local farms. The fresh variety has a yellow rind with a soft, white paste and a characteristic aromatic flavour, described as “sweet”. The aged variety can have a yellow, red or black rind and is harder, with a pale yellow paste and a flavour that is fragrant and intense but never spicy. The marking is placed on the rim of the form, using ink for the soft cheese and branding for the semi-hard paste variety.
PDO Pecorino Toscano is produced with the help of the latest technology, which faithfully replicates the processes handed down over the centuries. The milk, from flocks farmed only in the “area of origin”, is curdled within 20 to 25 minutes at a temperature of between 33°C and 38°C, with the addition of calf rennet and native lactic enzymes. The curds are broken down into different sized lumps according to the type of processing. After this, the curd mixture is put into special moulds for the draining of the whey.
The pressing is done manually or by steaming. The cheese is either salted in brine or dry-salted directly. Finally, the forms are left in aging rooms, for 20 days in the case of soft paste Pecorino and for four months (minimum) for the semi-hard cheese. Once each form has been inspected, they can be stamped with the PDO Pecorino Toscano marking.
The local areas
Since the time of the Etruscans, there are testimonies indicating Maremma as the production area of Pecorino Toscano. Nevertheless, each specific place of origin gave the cheese a different name. Over time, however, despite the different areas of origin, the common characteristics of the cheese have allowed the definition of a clear production standard and a single overall geographical designation, which includes the whole of Tuscany and a number of municipalities in Umbria and Lazio.
Even though the PDO Pecorino Toscano production process follows the same guidelines, there is a variety of flavours and aromas due to the different climatic conditions and traditions in each place.
In the eighteenth century, women who knew how to make Pecorino cheese were held in high esteem. Their talent was considered part of their dowry and improved their chances of finding a husband.It is also said that in 1719, during a banquet in Siena for the carnival festivities, pecorino cheese and jam was proposed as a paring for the first time.
By Consorzio Tutela del Pecorino Toscano DOP with MiPAAF