Pecorino Toscano is a soft or semi-hard cheese, produced exclusively with whole sheep’s milk.
The freshest version has a rind with a colour ranging from yellow to pale yellow and a white, slightly yellowish cheese with a soft consistency to the touch. The flavour is fragrant, characteristic, defined as “sweet”.
The ripened product has a rind with a colour ranging from yellow to intense yellow, but which according to the treatments to which it is subjected (tomato, ashes, oil) may be black or reddish.
The cheese is instead pale yellow with a fragrant, intense but never piquant flavour.
- Average weight of a wheel: 0.75-3.50 kg
- Diameter: 15-22 centimetres
- Height: 7-11 centimetres
- Fresco: min. 20 days
- Stagionato: min. 4 months
The oldest surviving documents that mention Pecorino Toscano describe it as “cacio marzolino” or a March cheese in reference to the month in which production started. In 1475, the humanist Bartolomeo Platina, celebrated the “Marzolino d’Etruria” as an equal of Parmigiano, the finest cheese in Italy.
For centuries the making of the cheese was not regulated, to the detriment of quality and its specific characteristics. In the first half of the Nineteenth Century, Ignazio Malenotti, a member of the Linnean Society of Paris, came to the defence of the sheep farming community, proposing that the encouragement of the activity and improvements in animal husbandry and the processing of the milk. In 1832, the scholar published his Manuale del Pecoraio in which he illustrated the economic and social advantages landowners and farmers might draw from more modern and more rational sheep farming. In the book he discussed sheep rearing techniques and indicated the best method for preparing Pecorino Toscano. This is precious evidence of the fact that Pecorino Toscano was already being produced throughout the region and that production techniques were fairly uniform.
In the period between the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries, thanks to the constant increase in the price of Pecorino cheese, there was a revival in sheep farming in Tuscany. Through to the 1930s, when the activity suffered a severe decline due to a policy of encouraging the ploughing of available agricultural land, to the detriment of sheep farming which was relegated to the most marginal areas. The true collapse came, however, during the Second World War and continued in the 1950s, with the sheep farming sector shrinking to half its size in a little over 20 years.
Moreover, in the era of the industrial boom, there was a sharp decline in sheep farming based on transhumance in favour of a semi-sedentary practice. The migration of the farmers towards the cities provoked a general abandoning of agricultural land which suddenly became available. Many sheep farmers, who during the winter period would take their flocks from the Apennines to the Maremma area, now had more land available all year round and transformed into “sedentary” farmers. Sheep farming therefore moved towards the plains and the lower parts of the valleys. It was then that the shepherds from Sardinia made their appearance. In contrast with their Tuscan counterparts, the Sardinian shepherds concentrated on taking stable possession of the plots of land and rapidly succeeded in establishing structured agricultural activities where they could raise the animals imported from their area of origin.
Thanks to the presence of the Sardinian shepherds, from the 1960s sheep farming enjoyed constant growth. Today the sector is well-balanced, with the Sardinian shepherds prevalently raising the Sardinian breed of sheep, while the Tuscans also favour other breeds such as the Massese, the Comisana, the Appeninnica and the Sopravissana.
The area of production and ageing comprises the whole of Tuscany, the Umbrian communes of Allerona and Castiglione del Lago and the Lazio communes of Acquapendente, Onano, San Lorenzo Nuovo, Grotte di Castro, Gradoli, Valentano, Farnese, Ischia di Castro, Montefiascone, Bolsena and Capodimonte.
Pecorino Toscano PDO is produced with the aid of modern technologies that faithfully reproduce the procedures handed down over the centuries.
The milk from flocks raised in the area defined by the regulations as the “area of origin” is coagulated with calves’ rennet at a temperature of between 33 and 38°C.
Autochthonous milk enzymes may be added to the milk but they must come from the culture collection conserved by the Consortium for the Protection of Pecorino Toscano PDO.
The curd is reduced to granules of the size of a hazelnut in the case of soft Pecorino Toscano and a grain of corn in the case of a semi-hard cheese.
After the curd has been broken up it is placed in moulds to favour the draining of the whey. This may also be encouraged with light hand pressing before the cheeses are placed in rooms known as warm chambers of heated containers in which the decreasing heat and humidity help the elimination of the whey.
Salting is done either in brine or dry, by salting the surface of the Pecorino Toscano PDO cheeses.
Once this first part of the process has been completed the cheeses are set aside to age. The minimum period of ageing is 20 days for the soft Pecorino Toscano and four months (minimum) for the semi-hard version.
The minimum period of ageing is 20 days for the soft Pecorino Toscano and four months (minimum) for the semi-hard version. Pecorino Toscano Fresco is a compact cheese with a white, pale yellowish colour. It has a mild but full sheep’s milk flavour. Its aromas and perfumes are well developed and well balanced. In the Stagionato form the cheese is white to pale yellow in colour and friable. It has a flavour that is both full yet mild. Its aromas are complex and assorted.
Following the microbial and enzymatic modifications that take place during the process of ageing, in Pecorino Toscano PDO there is a disaggregation of the protein compounds and a consequent release of a reasonable amount of essential amino acids (valine, lysine and leucine) and non-essential amino acid (glutamic acid) which are very important for their high nutritional value. The two types of Pecorino Toscano PDO, Fresco and Stagionato, are therefore rich in important nutritional elements which vary in relation to the intensity and therefore the duration of the production process.
In the kitchen
Pecorino Toscano may be consumed as a table cheese or grated, according to the degree of ageing. When grated, Pecorino is used a condiment for pasta and main courses of meat. When sliced, both fresh and Stagionato, it goes well with honey, jam, and seasonal fresh fruit and vegetables.
For it to be at its best and to maintain unaltered the aromatic characteristics of the product, Pecorino Toscano PDO should be kept in a cool, dry place that reproduces the conditions in the cellars in which it is aged. Where this is not possible, it should be kept in the least cold part of the refrigerator, preferably wrapped in a cotton cloth, protecting the cut surface with transparent film.