The name “Pecorino”, derived from the Italian word for sheep “pecora”, refers to a variety of sheep’s milk cheeses made throughout Italy.
Although there are many different styles of Pecorino that are sold at varying stages of maturity, production is especially prevalent in southern and central Italy where the landscape lends itself to dairy sheep.
One of the regions most renowned for quality Pecorino is Tuscany, and it is here that Pecorino Pienza Gran Riserva is made, near the city of Pienza.
For production, raw sheep’s milk is sourced from local dairies, heated and coagulated. Once firm, the curd is cut into very fine pieces, about the size of a grain of rice and heated again. This releases a large quantity of whey which is drained off. The remaining curd is transferred to molds and the cheeses pressed in a very warm room, which encourages further draining.
After being unmolded, the wheels are salted and taken to maturing rooms where they will age for a minimum of three months and usually six months or more. During this time, the wheels will be regularly turned (flipped) to encourage the even distribution of moisture and the exterior rind will be rubbed with olive oil. The oil helps to prevent cracking of the rind and reduce mold growth.
The resulting cheese has a smooth, hard interior texture that is golden, straw-yellow in color. The paste can be slightly oily, especially at warmer temperatures, which is a result of the high butterfat content of the sheep’s milk and the application of olive oil to the rind. The exterior rind is brown-gray in color and shows the ridged lines from the original cheese forms.
Flavors are sweet, yet slightly piquant and pleasantly balanced with salt. There are hints of almonds and lanolin. There are also small, pleasant crystals within the body of the cheese, that increase with age.
Pecorino Pienza Gran Riserva pairs well with spiced fruit chuneys and especially pepper jams. It is also ideal when grated over pasta.
It is also a good match with full-bodied Tuscan red wines.