Pecorino Toscano DOP belongs to the large family of Italian sheep cheeses, produced since the age of Etruscans in the lands between Toscana, Umbria and Lazio. It is made in two versions, the soft one, fresh and delicate, and the semi-hard version, which distinguishes for the more intense taste and the interesting nutritional facts.
History and curiosities
The story of Pecorino Toscano has its roots in the Age of Etruscans, who lived in the Eighteenth century in the area between Toscana, Umbria and Lazio. However, the first evidences about its production does not appear before the Age of Ancient Rome. In particular, in its “Naturalis historiae”, Pliny the Elder described the excellent characteristics of a great cheese made in the area of Luni, classical Roman colony between Toscana and Liguria.
The original name of this cheese, in fact, was exactly “marzolino cheese”, because its production usually started in March. This term, more precisely, started to be used in the Fifteenth century, a period particularly florid for the Italian dairy sector. Many Lords during the Renaissance, in fact, as Lorenzo il Magnifico, moved by the desire to underline the importance of the territory in European courts’ eyes, tried to protect and enhance the typical Italian products.
Later, Pecorino Toscano will be mentioned also in some documents written by Francesco Molinelli in the Eighteenth century, with the name of “Tuscan cheese”.
In 1985 was born the Consortium for Pecorino Tocano PDO, which protects cheese and the single manufacturers, officially recognized and cotrolled.
Production and Regulation
Pecorino Toscano gained the Protected Designation of Origin in 1996 and for this reason its production must follow the steps and the indications expressed by the Regulation.
The productive area of Pecorino Toscano DOP is included between Toscana and some districts in Lazio and Umbria. From these areas must come from the milk used to realize cheese, more exactly from sheep fed with fodder, hay and feed located in these lands.
Milk, raw or pasteurized, reaches the productive establishment, where it is added with starter bacteria and rennet. After 20-25 minutes the curd is ready, and it is broken into some granules with the dimensions of a bean or a hazelnut for the younger cheese, or a grain of wheat for the mature one.
Curd is then extracted and placed in specific molds, in which the excessive buttermilk can spurge. Later, the cheese destined to a longer seasoning is cooked and turned upside down many times.
Salting can occur dry, as the traditional method, or in brine. The process lasts from 8 hours, for the soft cheese, to 12-14 hours for the mature cheese.
At this point the wheels are ready for seasoning, in rooms with controlled temperature and humidity. The soft cheese is left to mature for at least 20 days, while the mature cheese requires 4 months.
Once the maturation is finished, cheese is checked before being tagged and marked with the Protected Designation of Origin.
Taste and characteristics
Pecorino Toscano DOP is a sheep cheese made in two versions: soft and semi hard.
The color of the rind is yellow, with some shades more or less intense depending on the maturation. Inside, instead, cheese is white, with a light straw-yellow shade in the soft version, straw-colored in the seasoned product.
The texture is compact and offers a certain resistance to the cut in the semi-hard version, while in the soft cheese it is also compact, but less hard.
The taste is typical of the other sheep cheeses, with herbaceous scents quite intense, but particularly pleasant.
A very interesting aspect of Pecorino Toscano is linked to the many benefic properties of sheep milk. In this milk, in fact, we can find important fatty acid, as butyric acid, able to reduce the bowel’s inflammation and even the tumor’s appearance.
The soft cheese has less calories than the mature version, but this cheese as some additional properties. Seasoning, in fact, concentrates the nutritional substances present in the cheese. For this reason we will find also a great amount of calcium, iron and proteins. This aspect is particularly indicated for people who suffers for high cholesterol, because the mature Pecorino as more proteins than fats.
Pecorino Toscano is great as a table cheese, especially in the soft version, combined with other typical cheeses and cold cuts.
The mature cheese, instead, is more compact, so that it can be easily grated on dishes as pasta, gnocchi or Tuscan “pici”, similar to spaghetti but thicker. Good also to fill fresh pasta, as tortellini or ravioli.
Among the other typical Tuscan recipes we find “acquacotta maremmana”, a creamy and tasteful soup made with onions, vegetables, dandelion, stale bread and even some animal products, as eggs, pork’s lard or salt cod.
A very elegant pairing is with dry fruit, as nuts, whose bitter taste is perfect with the sweet pecorino, but also with a fig jam. Excellent also the combination with honey, as Miele delle Dolomiti Bellunesi from dandelion, which distinguishes for the slightly bitter and sour notes.
For what concerns wines, Pecorino Toscano requires a different product depending on the version. For the soft cheese is more adapt a white wine, as Bianco di Pitigliano DOC or a good Montecucco DOC, both in the white, fresh and delicate version or in the winy and equilibrated red version.
The mature cheese, instead, is good with more intense red wines, as Chianti Classico or a structured Brunello di Montalcino for the pecorino over eight months of seasoning.