This cheese is made from whole sheep’s milk during the spring and summer seasons in the mountainous area in the province of Reggio Emilia. It is currently awaiting IGP (Protected Geographic Indication) recognition from the European Union. After the milk is heated in traditional vats, it is coagulated with lamb rennet and left to solidify to the right point. Then the curd is broken and stirred while heated. It is cut again, then places in wooden molds (fascere) and moved into an aging room. After 60 days of aging, the cheese should be light in color, compact without holes and flavorful.
For centuries after the fall of the Roman empire, Emilia Romagna was divided into two regions (indicated by its name), with the Lombards in the western part and the Byzantines in the east.
Diverse culinary traditions developed due to this division: in the Emilian part beef and pork dominated and in the Romagnola side sheep was more popular – with some exceptions, however. One of these was a small enclave in the Apennine Mountains near Reggio, at the boarder with Tuscany, where sheep had been raised for centuries, up until the mid 1900s. It seems strange, but there was another cheese, Pecorino Reggiano, being made in the land of Parmigiano Reggiano, and more specifically in the area of the famed vache rosse (the breed of cow whose milk is used to make the best parmesan).
The presence of sheep in this area high in the mountains can be traced back to before 1000, and therefore before the arrival of the cows for making Parmigiano Reggiano. Until 1800, pecorino was more common than Parmigiano in the mountainous areas of the Reggio Emilia province. In 1955, there were 50,000 sheep and goats in and around Reggio Emilia; in 2004, there were only 2,200 remaining for meat and milk production. In the same year, the guidelines for pecorino production were established out of a collaboration between the University of Bologna, and the Valli dei Cavalieri Cooperative of Succisio from Ramiseto, a small town of 100 people located almost 3,000 ft above sea level near the Aple di Succiso.
Pecorino Reggiano comes in different sizes that vary from two to five lbs. It is sweeter than Tuscan pecorino and less salty and spicy than aged pecorino. No special anti-mold products are placed on the rind: the fresh cheese is actually covered in olive oil or vinegar, with the rind of the aged cheese forms grey-green mold, which are a typical of this product.