Canestrato Pugliese is a sheep’s milk cheese with a cylindrical shape and a brownish-yellow rind. The cheese itself is straw-colored, compact, friable and fairly dense. Aged canestrato has a strong flavor and aroma, while the fresh cheese is more delicate. Canestrato is made in Puglia, in the provinces of Foggia and Bari.
It gets its name from the fiscelle, the reed baskets traditionally used to age the cheese in. The weave of the basket leaves an imprint on the cheese and gives it its characteristic shape.
The baskets should be made of reed from Puglia, which is sweeter in scent than reed grown in the North of the country.
The production of canestrato, an ancient tradition dating back to the times of transhumance, takes place from December to May, when the herds are moved from the high pastures of Abruzzo to the flatlands of Tavoliere delle Puglie. The aging process lasts two to ten months and the cheese, after which the cheese can be sliced and served or grated.
According to Pugliese tradition, the young cheese should be paired with fava beans, pears or raw vegetables with pinzimonio (a dipping sauce of olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper). The older, aged version is best grated over pasta with meat ragù or used in involtini (rolled meat). In 1996, Canestrato Pugliese became and officially DOP (Protected Domination of Origin) product.