In Italy, Pecorino is the name given to all hard cheeses made from sheep’s milk. These traditional, widely made cheeses are creamy, hard and drum shaped, with a distinctive flavour that develops and sharpens with age.
For the Italians, Pecorino is more than a table cheese. It plays an important part in all Italian cuisine, being the preferred cheese in many pasta dishes. And it has the advantage of being an acceptable substitute for the expensive Parmigiano-Reggiano.
There are four varieties; Romano, Sardo, Siciliano and Tascano and all are protected by a European Union PDO. When they are young or ‘fresco’ they have a softer texture and mild, creamy flavour. As they age and become ‘semi-stagionato’ the flavour and texture becomes denser until finally they are referred to as ‘stagionato’. These aged cheeses are hard and crumbly in texture with an acclaimed buttery, nutty flavour.
A good Pecorino will have a smooth, hard rind varying from pale straw, to dark brown, depending on age – and sometimes a protective coating of lard or oil. The cheese should be compact in texture, white to pale yellow and have irregular small eyes. Herbs and spices such as peppercorns and chillies are also sometimes added to create new varieties such as Pecorino Pepato. When storing Pecorino, it’s important the cheese can breathe, so loosely wrap in parchment and seal in an air tight container in the fridge.