This unique sheep’s milk cheese gets its name from the ancient city of Pienza, located just a few miles from Montepulciano. Pecorino di Pienza is considered the best pecorino produced in the Crete Senesi, a specific area within the province of Siena. Sheep were probably being raised in Tuscany since before the Etruscans and Pliny the Elder documented their presence during the Roman Age. Pecorino di Pienza, a favorite of Lorenzo il Magnifico, is a cooked-milk cheese made with whole, raw milk from sheep of the sarda breed (or possibly appenninica or sopravvissana). The sheep are raised out in the open and graze exclusively on the local flora. The aromas of rare plants that grow in the clay soil of the Crete Senesi (wormwood, meadow salsify, juniper, broom, burnet …) can be sensed in the sheep’s milk. The milk enters immediately into the cheese-making process.
It is coagulated with veal rennet, or rennet made from the stamen of wild artichoke, marinated in vinegar and salt, or left to dry and then placed in warm water. The wheels of cheese mature in very humid cellars and periodically their walnut leaf-wrapped rinds are damped first with Tuscan olive oil, then with grease and wax. The round wheels can vary from 5.5 to 8.5 in. in diameter and from 2 to 4.5 lbs. After about 40 to 60 days the fresh cheese is ready to be consumed and has a soft, slightly spicy flavor. If left to age for five to twelve, or even eighteen (the best for grating) months, the cheese will have a 40% fat content, a full, long-lasting flavor. This aged cheese is not spicy, but has a tannic aftertaste and a soft, crumbly texture in the mouth. Pecorino di Pienza pairs perfectly with chestnut honey from Montalcino and the wines of the region, from Chianti to Montepulciano.