I’m happy to be tasting an Italian cheese today-and not just any Italian cheese-a Pecorino. I first heard of and tasted Pecorino about three years ago. My sister was battling cancer (f*ck cancer) and was told she couldn’t have cow cheese while on this special anti-cancer diet. Or wheat for that matter. She was having a terrible hankering for pizza. We actually found a spelt crust that would work, but we needed cheese. We wandered into an Italian deli and explained our problem. The nice lady cut us off a wedge of this Pecorino, a sheep’s milk cheese. The cheese totally rocked and after we assembled the pizza we ate the rest of the wedge to our faces-revelling in the wonder of pecorino. How in the world had we gone so many years without this delightful cheese?
Now here’s the really interesting bit for me-there are at least 15 types of Pecorino! My new best friend the “World Cheese Book” lists 15, but that doesn’t even include the one I am going to review. Clearly Pecorino is a really big deal, but I had never, ever tasted it. The shame. Pecorino is actually an umbrella term for all Italian cheeses made from sheep’s milk. The word pecora means sheep. There are 4 main types, all are DOP Protected Designation of Origin, so if it says “Pecorino” it is. Some pecorino has stuff mixed into it, truffles (mmm), walnuts or even live fly larva (that’s no word of a lie, it’s casu marzu, and I shan’t be reviewing it!)
Nomadic shepherds have produced sheep cheese in Italy for at least 1000 years. Shepherds made their own cheeses and traded them when they brought their sheep in from pasture. These cheeses mostly come from Tuscany and almost died out after the first world war when Italian shepherds literally abandoned their flocks and fled to the cities. Luckily, the tradition didn’t entirely die out, and since the 1960’s the herds and the tradition of cheese making have slowly returned to their former glory. In 1987 DOP was awarded to the Pecorino cheeses. According to the official spokespeople for the cheese it, “should be eaten in the same humble manner in which the Tuscan peasant combated hunger and fatigue.” Nice, I can channel a hungry humble Tuscan peasant!
I’m clearly going to have to sample more than one Pecorino. It’s like trying only one cheddar. Not going to happen. Today’s cheese, “Pecorino d’oro” was a bit of a trickster for me to research. The problem is one of translation. I had a lot more luck searching under “Pecorino Oro Riserva” or “Pecorino Oro Antico,” alternative names for the same cheese. Pecorino d’Oro, which translates into “Antique Gold” is actually an aged Tuscan Pecorino. This pasteurized sheep’s cheese is aged more than 6 months. It has a hard and inedible rind which has been rubbed with olive oil repeatedly (lucky!).Pecorino d’Oro is artisanal and handmade. The cheese gets harder and tangier while aging (don’t we all). This cheese is made and distributed by Il Forteto, a large Italian affineur and distribution company
My slice of Pecorino d”Oro looks like parmesan. The interior is a creamy white with no eyes, although I may be seeing some tyrosine crystal action-that would be nice! The rind is kind of grey, and I won’t try that. The smell is pretty chilled out, you have to put your nose right up to it and it doesn’t have any horrid urine reek like some of the younger cheese. This one’s been hanging out in affinage for quite a while so it’s behaving itself. This is clearly not the cheese my sister and I ate on pizza, as that was a soft cheese. Oh well, age before beauty!
Salty! Sheepy! Crunchy! Tangy! Piquant! This cheese is crazy! I’m not sure you are supposed to eat this cheese like this, it’s very hard and dry-perhaps it should be grated? No, eating it works too. It’s just packed with tyrosine crystals, it’s bizarrely crunchy and yummy. The sheep isn’t overwhelming, but it’s there under that intense yummy tang. I actually really like this cheese, but I can’t figure out how or why I would eat it. It just seems too hard for eating on its own, but if you grated it, you would miss out on the crunch, which would be a shame. Yummy cheese. Nice, just shut up and chew it. So much flavour! Oh yeah. If you are looking for a hard and intense cheese, try this one out.