Pecorino Romano is one of the most famous cheeses of the Italian dairy tradition. Its origins, as it’s easy to understand from the name, are closely connected to the historic city of Rome and, more generally, to Lazio Region. Not surprisingly, it’s fundamental ingredient in many of the most typical dishes of this territory: culinary specialties whose name is very well known all over the world, such as, for example, ‘Spaghetti alla Carbonara’ and ‘Bucatini all’Amatriciana’.
What is Pecorino?
‘Pecorino’ is a type of Italian hard cheese made from sheep’s milk: an ingredient that makes it particularly tasty. The origins of this dairy specialty are very ancient and can be generally located in the Mediterranean area. There are many types of Pecorino: while sharing the same name, each of them stands out for its particular flavor.
The history of Pecorino.
‘Pecorino’ should be counted among the most ancient cheeses. According to many scholars, its birth could date back to a historical period prior to the Classical Age.
We know for sure that it was much appreciated by the Romans: many are, in fact, the references to this specialty in the works of some of the most famous writers of the time, such as Columella (*1) who, in his ‘De Re Rustica’, accurately describes its preparation procedure. On a related note, it’s interesting to remember that the legions made extensive use of this dairy product, taking advantage of the features that made it particularly suitable for the needs of an army (*2), namely its nutritional value, portability and long conservation.
The passage of centuries has not affected the great value of Pecorino: this value has been recently recognized by the European Union with the assignment of the PDO mark (Protected Designation of Origin) to different types of this cheese.
*1: Lucius Junius Moderatus Columella (4 – 70 AD).
*2: In one of his writings, the famous poet Virgil mentions the ration of Pecorino cheese assigned to each legionary.
Pecorino Romano PDO.
‘Pecorino Romano’ is not the only type of Pecorino on the market, but it’s probably the most known. Although it’s originally from the Italian Region of Lazio, it’s important to stress the fact that nowadays a great part of the production of this hard cheese (*1) takes place in another Region: Sardinia. Made with fresh sheep’s milk (*2), this dairy specialty stands out for its strong flavor, characterized by a delicious sapidity. It’s sold in wheels, whose edge (the ‘scalzo’) is branded with the symbol of the Consortium (*3), certifying its quality. Its rind is thin and ivory-colored, the inner part is of a tint blending white and straw yellow.
In 2002 the European Community awarded Pecorino Romano with the PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) mark.
*1: Hard cheeses distinguish themselves for the low water content and the long aging.
*2: Whole milk: its places of origin are specified in the product specification document.
*3: The mark of the Consortium for the Protection of Pecorino Romano Cheese represents the stylized head of a sheep.
How is made Pecorino Romano?
Here follows a list of the main steps for the production of Pecorino Romano:
01. Once filtered, fresh sheep’s milk (whole) is processed raw or heated at a temperature up to 68°C for a maximum of 15 minutes.
02. The milk is poured into special ‘coagulation tanks’. Natural lactic ferments are added: this step is known as ‘scotta innesto’ and deeply characterizes the production of Pecorino Romano.
03. Lamb rennet is then added. At a temperature between 38°C and 40°C, this rennet causes the coagulation of the milk and the formation of the ‘curd’ (‘cagliata’).
04. Once hardened, the curd is broken into small fragments (generally not larger than a grain of wheat) and cooked at a temperature of about 50°C thus creating a paste.
05. The paste is drained, cut into blocks, pressed and inserted into special molds where it is cooled. It’s then put to rest.
Where is Pecorino Romano produced?
Many ‘taste lovers’ will probably be surprised discovering that, despite its name, a great part of the Pecorino Romano that ends up on our tables does not come from the Italian Region of Lazio, let alone from Rome (*1). Nowadays, more than 90% of this cheese is made in another Region, Sardinia. The specification document (*2) itself indicates this island, together with the Province of Grosseto and, of course, Lazio, as the only places where all the production phases of this dairy specialty must take place.
To understand the reason of this (only apparent) oddity, it’s important to remember that, between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, the export of Pecorino, especially towards North America, experienced a great increase (not surprisingly, this country was full of Italian emigrants). The production from Lazio was no longer able to meet the growing demand: this forced the dairy entrepreneurs (*1) to build factories in Sardinia, region which had always been famous for its sheep pastures.
*1: Rome is the provincial capital of the Italian Region of Lazio.
*2: The ‘disciplinare’.
*3: One of the many causes that led to the delocalization was probably the decree with which, in 1884, the Mayor of Rome Leopoldo Torlonia, established that the Roman grocers (the ‘pizzicaroli’), could no longer salt Pecorino inside the city walls, as they always used to do.
Pecorino Romano: recipes.
Pecorino Romano is a fundamental ingredient in the preparation of many of the most important specialties belonging to the Roman and Latium culinaty traditions. Iconic dishes, incredibly rich in taste, such as:
Spaghetti alla Carbonara.
Prepared with spaghetti, egg yolks, bacon, black pepper and Pecorino Romano PDO.
Prepared with bucatini, bacon, peeled tomatoes, olive oil, white wine, chilli pepper and pecorino romano DOP. (Ricetta)
Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe.
Prepared with spaghetti, black pepper and Pecorino Romano PDO. (Ricetta)
Other types of Pecorino cheese.
Pecorino Romano is not the only type of Pecorino cheese on the market. To give an idea of the great variety of Italian ‘Pecorini’ here follows the list of those awarded with the PDO Certification mark by the European Union.
Click here for the list.
Pecorino Toscano PDO;
Pecorino Sardo PDO;
Pecorino di Filiano PDO;
Pecorino Crotonese PDO;
Pecorino di Picinisco PDO;
Pecorino Siciliano PDO;
Pecorino delle Balze Volterrane PDO;
Pecorino Romano, pairings.
In addition to being an ingredient of fundamental importance for many of the most typical dishes of the Roman and Lazio gastronomic tradition, Pecorino Romano is perfect in many pairings further enhancing its taste. Among these pairings, the most famous are:
Click here for the list.
Fresh Pecorino with and broad beans.
Seasoned Pecorino and honey.
Seasoned Pecorino and dried figs.
Seasoned Pecorino and onion compote.
The Consortium for the Protection of Pecorino Romano Cheese.
In November 1979 a group of producers from Lazio and Sardinia founded the Consortium for the Protection of Pecorino Romano cheese. The purpose of this institution is:
1) To supervise the production of this dairy specialty in accordance with the Specification Document;
2) To promote it worldwide;
3) To defend it from any imitation;
Starting from 1996, after the assignment of the PDO mark to Pecorino Romano by the European Union, these responsibilities have only increased.
It should be finally noted that the Consortium’s headquarters are currently located in Macomer, in the province of Nuoro.
The Regions of Pecorino Romano.
Although nowadays more than 90% of the production of Pecorino Romano takes place in Sardinia, this cheese was born in another region: Lazio.
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The wheels of Pecorino Romano cheese.
Pecorino Romano is marketed in wheels. Their average dimensions are:
Height: between 24 and 40 cms.
Diameter: between 25 and 35 cms.
Weight between 20 and 35 kilos.
The mark of origin, depicting the stylized image of a sheep’s head, is engraved along the entire edge (the ‘scalzo’).
Pecorino Romano in video.
Here follows a video showing, step by step, the production of Pecorino Romano cheese. (Courtesy of the Consortium for the Protection of Pecorino Romano Cheese)
Pecorino Romano, the seasoning.
The Specification document for Pecorino Romano DOP requires that this cheese can be marketed not before at least 5 months of seasoning for the fresh type, and at least 8 months for the aged type.
Pecorino Romano calories and nutritional values.
The nutritional qualities of Pecorino Romano are well known since Roman time, when rations of this exquisite cheese were assigned to legionaries engaged in military campaigns for the Empire. 100 grams contain 387 calories, 32 grams of protein, 27 grams of fat, 3.60 grams of carbohydrates and water.
Perhaps not everyone knows that ‘Pecorino’ is not only the name of an exquisite cheese made with sheep’s milk but also that of a white grape variety cultivated in the Italian Regions of Abruzzo, Marche, Umbria and Lazio. Its grapes are used, among other things, in the production of a wine bearing the same name, the ‘Pecorino’, and the Offida DOCG.
‘Pecorino cream’ is a delicious specialty preparation based on pecorino cheese, characterized by a strong flavor. It can be used as a sauce or as a dressing to garnish, for example, croutons.
There are several variations of its recipe: one of these involves melting butter slowly in a saucepan and mixing it gently, adding flour, a little ground pepper, salt and, of course, grated Pecorino cheese.
The right wine.
What’s the best wine to accompany Pecorino Romano? Well, it depends on the seasoning of the cheese. If it’s fresh, a good choice could be a rosé or an aromatic white, for example a Vermentino di Gallura. If it’s aged, the most suitable wine is certainly a full-bodied red that can balance the intense taste of Pecorino. For example a Chianti, a Morellino di Scansano or a Primitivo di Manduria.
Consortium for the Protection of Pecorino Romano Cheese: contacts.
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