Pecorino is made exclusively from sheep’s milk, it has a cylindrical shape and its paste is white when eaten fresh. The most appreciated pecorino is made from milk from April and May, when the pastures are rich of aromatic fresh herbs and aromatic flowers. Its taste is rude and blunt that changes depending on the time of aging and other factors of production. If consumed after a few month of aging, it has a white and compact paste, sweet-sour taste, tending to savoury, and thin outer crust of pale yellow. At the end of aging, however, the paste is more compact and dark, slightly spicy with aroma of hazelnuts, almonds and hay; the crust is rough, solid and tending to gold. Pecorino cheese, that has remained in cellars, protected from temperature changes, for more than a year, is recognizable by the golden crust, ochre or brown; it will have a yellow-orange paste with thin reddish veins, a strong and aromatic odour, with notes of truffle and mushrooms, and spicy savoury flavour. Over time, to the classical production there have been added truffle, pepper, chilli variants and limited edition aged in walnut leaves.
Simplicity is the essence of pecorino. Italians often eat it alone, accompanied simply with olives or other marinated appetizer (“antipasti” in Italian) such as artichokes and eggplant or even raw vegetables like fava beans. Other common parings include various cold cuts, such as prosciutto, capicola and dry-cured Italian sausages. Pecorino is often consumed with fruit, such as pears or berries. Even paired with just a good glass of wine.
Summery Fettuccine Alfredo
· 3/4 pound(s) fettuccine
· 1 cup(s) thick whole-milk ricotta cheese
· 1/2 cup(s) finely grated pecorino cheese, 1 1/2 ounces plus more for serving
· 1/4 cup(s) chopped basil leaves
· Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the fettuccine until al dente. Reserve 3/4 cup of the pasta cooking water and drain the fettuccine well.
2. Add the ricotta and the 1/2 cup of pecorino to the pot along with the reserved pasta cooking water; stir until smooth. Add the fettuccine and the basil, season with salt and pepper and toss. Serve in bowls, passing additional grated pecorino at the table.
Simple tortilla pizza bites
· 4 whole-wheat, plain flour or corn tortillas (about 19cm/7½in diameter)
· 1 small garlic clove, peeled and halved
· 400g/14oz can chopped tomatoes (preferably with herbs)
· ¼-½ tsp chilli flakes (optional)
· 125g/4½oz pecorino cheese
· 285g/10oz jar roasted red and yellow peppers, drained (about 175g/6oz of actual peppers)
· small handful fresh basil leaves (optional)
· flaked sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. Turn the oven about 240C. Spray a bit of oil on two large baking trays and place two tortillas on each.
2. Divide the chopped tomatoes evenly between the four tortillas, spreading them out but leaving a 1.5cm/¾in border. Scatter over the chilli flakes, if using, and divide the cheese and peppers evenly over the top. Pop both trays into the oven to bake for about 4-6 minutes (depending on how hot your oven is), or until the cheese has melted and the tortillas are crisp and golden-brown on their edges.
3. Remove the tortillas from the oven and slide onto serving plates. Top with the rocket and basil (if using). Season with a little scattering of salt and pepper, then drizzle with balsamic vinegar and some extra virgin olive oil, if you fancy it.
A study by Professor Sebastiano Banni and colleagues conducted in Sardinia, Italy from 2003 to 2009 at the Universities of Sassari and Cagliari, found that pecorino cheese contains higher amounts of conjugated linoleic acid, or CLA, than other cheeses. CLA is an omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acid that has been studied for its ability to fight cancer and help prevent coronary artery disease, diabetes and obesity. The study showed that human subjects fed approximately 3 oz. daily of pecorino cheese enriched with CLA for three weeks decreased their plasma LDL cholesterol levels as well as reducing their body mass index.
Pecorino is one of the saltiest cheeses available and can be used as a substitute for some of the salt added to a recipe. Pecorino has approximately 8% of your recommended daily allowance of vitamin A and 25% of your RDA of calcium. Also pecorino contains vitamins B2, niacin, B12 and D, plus minerals such as zinc and phosphorus.
The making of pecorino is tricky task. First, rennet—or alternatively, a vegetable enzyme—is stirred into warmed sheep’s milk to start the coagulation and the formation of curds. Excess whey and lactose is pressed out. Then the cheese is shaped into a large wheels and allowed to rest and season naturally in cool temperatures with very low light and only a certain amount of humidity. The pecorino will mature from a few weeks, for fresh, up to a year, for “stagionato”.
The taste varies not only according to the quality of the sheep’s milk, but also according to the way it is preserved and aged. In some cases, spices or herbs are added during the production process.