Please put back that piece of Cheddar, and try something new!

Pecorino Toscano is a creamy, Italian sheep's milk cheese with a slightly sweet and nutty flavor. It is available in two basic varieties: fresco (aged at least 20 days) and stagionato (aged four months to one year). Fresco is milder, softer and sweeter; stagionato is firmer and sharper. These cheeses have small air holes throughout and are ivory to light straw-colored. When shopping, look for the phrases "100% pura pecora," "tutti di latte pecora," or "latte di pecora completo" on the product's label; this indicates a 100% sheep's milk cheese rather than a hybrid that also includes cow's milk.

Pecorino Toscano is one of 33 Italian name-controlled cheeses (Formaggio Denominazione di Origine Protetta or DOP). Only milk from sheep grazed in Tuscany (and parts of Umbria and Le Marche) can be used to make this cheese, and production stays local using time-honored methods outlined by the Consorzio Tutela Pecorino Toscano DOP. Milk is collected from locally-pastured sheep then heated to a temperature between 35-38° C (70-76° F). It is then curdled with rennet for 20-25 minutes, cut into curds and scooped into molds which are pressed (or steamed) to remove excess liquid. The cheese is then aged in a controlled environment at a temperature of 5-12° C (40-54° F) and 75-90% humidity.

Now let's move on to the fun part: information about eating your lovely piece of Pecorino Toscano! For a picnic, antipasto platter or a light meal, this cheese is a great complement to Tuscan ham, salami, olives, roasted peppers, marinated porcini mushrooms and crusty bread. It's also a good choice to serve with a salad course or part of a cheese plate. The fresco cheese is excellent with fresh fruit — particularly pears — for dessert. Or for a special Tuscan treat, cut your cheese in thin slices, fan them out on a plate, and drizzle with a flower-scented honey.

Last but not least, you just might want a little wine with your cheese. A couple of good choices are two Tuscan reds, Chianti Classico and Remole Toscana. If you really prefer a white wine, two regional options are Vernaccia di San Gimignano and Pino Grigio. For the non-drinkers, sparkling cider is a good choice.

Buon appetito!


References:

Steven Jenkins, The Cheese Primer. (New York: Workman Publishing, 1996) 238-242.
Christian Teubner and Heinrich Mair-Waldburg, The Cheese Bible. (New York: Chartwell Books, 2010) 34-36.
Pecorino Toscano at tuscanytonight.com
Pecorino Toscano DOP at italianfood.about.com
Pecorino Toscano DOP, web site for the Consorzio Tutela Pecorino Toscano DOP (in Italian)

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