Sheep have been raies in Tuscany since the time of the Etruscans. The Romans are responsible for maintaining the tradition and also began to make cheese using the sheep’s milk.
The first to mention of “cacao,” or sheep’s milk cheese, is attributed to Plinio the Elder who wrote that it was made in the area of Lunigiana, the territory surrounding the ancient city of Luni located at the mouth of the Magra river. Tuscan pecorino is also mentioned by the most important authors of the 1400s who referred to it as cacio marzolino.
Pecorino Toscano DOP
Pecorino Toscano DOP is made with whole milk from sheep raised predominately on pasture grass and hay. Natural veal rennet is added to the milk to initiate coagulation. The milk is heated to 95°-100°F for about 20 to 25 minutes. The milk can be either raw or pasteurized and inoculated with milk enzymes. If the cheesemaker wants to make a soft or semi-firm, he or she will break the curd into either hazelnut or corn kernel sized pieces.
To make the semi-firm cheese, the curd is heated a second time. Then the mass is places in molds to remove the whey and it is pressed by hand (or stuffed using vapor.) Then you pass to the salting process. The cheese is emerges in bring for about 8 hours for the soft pecorino and about 12 to 14 hours for the semi-firm cheese.
The wheels are transferred to aging rooms that are 41°-54°F and have 75 to 90% humidity, after having been rubbed with oil or covered with wax to protect the rind from mold. During aging, the wheels are often turned and washed. Soft pecorino is aged for 20 days, while the semi-firm cheese is aged for at least 4 months. The final product is a wheel about 2.8-4 in height, 6-8 in wide and weighs between 1.7 and 7.7. lbs.
The rind should be either a light or darker shade of yellow with variations that develop during the aging process. The paste of the cheese varies in color from white to intense straw, depending on the type, and is compact with irregular holes, or slight occhiatura. The final product should have between 40 to 45% fat content and the flavor of the cheese can vary from sweet to slightly spicy.
Pecorino toscano can be sliced or grated and is best stored in a fresh, dry place. Traditionally, it was immersed in olive oil, sometimes with added pepper and bay leaves, in order to bring out the flavor and preserve its freshness.
If you are serving the cheese as part of a cheese course, try pairing it with fruit and honey or fruit preserves like compotes and marmalades. Otherwise you can grate the cheese over Tuscan dishes like soups, vegetables and meat.
Pecorino is made in numerous regions throughout Italy. Some of the more well-known areas of production include Moliterno, Sicilian pecorino or Pecorino Sardo. A limited amount of high-quality pecorino is made high in the Apennine mountain range in the province of Reggio Emilia.