Piacentinu Ennese, also known as “Piacentino from Enna”, certainly has no need for introductions, thanks to its curious yellow color and the delicately spicy taste of saffron and black pepper, which make it one of the most original Italian cheeses.
History and curiosities
Piacentinu Ennese appears officially for the first time in a text of Sixteenth century, attributed to the famous Latin historian Gallo, who described the characteristics and the productive processes of a cheese made with saffron.
Instead, according to a romantic local legend handed down during the years, Ruggero il Normanno, King of Sicily, watching his sad wife, ordered to a local dairymen to realize a therapeutic cheese. After some different experiments, the dairymen decided to add a small amount of saffron to sheep milk, creating a cheese with an unusual yellow color and with important energizing and antidepressant properties, at that time attributed to the Crocus sativus.
Regarding the origin of its name, as we can easily suppose, “Ennese” refers to the place of origin of this curious cheese, while there are many theories about the term “Piacentinu”. According to some hypothesis, it could be linked to the particular pleasantness of this cheese, while other theories link the term to the adjective “crying”, referring to the small spots that color the internal part, similar to teardrops.
Thanks to its particularity and its territorial importance, Piacentinu Ennese entered the list of PDO products and it is a Slow Food cheese.
Production and Regulation
The production of Piacentinu Ennese starts with sheep milk from local sheep breeds, accurately selected. Milk is heated, filtered and placed in the specific wooden “tine”. At this point, saffron is added, melt in some water to facilitate a perfect homogenization with milk, which assumes a pleasant yellow shade.
Later, rennet is added to allow the milk coagulation in about 45 minutes. Then the curd is diluted in some warm water and broken in small granules with the dimensions of a grain of rice. For this process it is used the traditional “rotula”, a wooden stick that allows the curd beak and the precipitation of the granules on the bottom. These can be gathered, placed on a wooden board, called “tavoliere”, on which the cheese mass can be cut in some portions.
Each piece of curd is added with black pepper and it is placed in specific wicker baskets, in which the excessive buttermilk can spurge, facilitated by the manual pressing.
Later, baskets are put in wooden “tine” for 3-4 hours and then they are transferred in specific rooms for an entire day. After this process, there is the dry salting, which is made twice at a distance of 10 days, to allow a perfect absorption of salt even in the internal part of cheese.
At this point, Piacentinu Ennese, after 60 days of maturation, is ready for being put in the market.
Taste and characteristics
Piacentinu Ennese is a particular cheese, for its curious aspect and for the unusual taste.
From an estheticalf point of view, it has a cylindrical shape and a yellow, hard rind, scratched by the characteristic signs left to the basket rush. Inside, cheese is also yellow, but it is smoother and softer than the rind. The holes are absent, but there can be rare exceptions, with some darker spots, due to the presence of black pepper.
The taste is another original touch of Piacentinu Ennese. The presence of saffron and black pepper, in fact, give to the cheese an original spicy scent, but at the same time it is never too strong or invasive.
The delicate taste, with the scented aftertaste, becomes more intense in the more mature wheels.
Piacentinu Ennese DOP is perfect with the best products of the typical Sicilian tradition. In particular, it is used a lot as a table cheese, maybe with other typical dairy products, as Ragusano DOP, Pecorino Siciliano or Caciocavallo Silano.
At the same time, it can be a delicious ingredient to give an original touch to many regional recipes. For example, it is used often to enrich the traditional chicken soup or other richer dishes, as the typical “eggplant caponata”, which surely do not need for a major intensity, but can result more complete and particular if topped with Piacentinu Ennese.
Very used also grated or cut in thin flakes, added to many first and second dishes, as the typical “Ciarbiddùzzu abbuttunàtu”, the typical stuffed kid.
The suggested wines are the great red wines from Sicily, as Nero d’Avola, rubin red, intense, enriched with the fruity and spicy notes, which perfectly recall the scent of Piacentinu Ennese.