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What is Pecorino Romano? The Ultimate Guide to Italy’s Age-Old Cheese

Pecorino Romano- The Ultimate Guide to Italy's Age-Old Cheese - Cheese Origin

Welcome to a journey into the heart of Italy’s rich culinary heritage, where we will explore Pecorino Romano – one of the country’s most ancient and globally cherished cheeses.

Crafted from sheep’s milk and known for its distinctive salty, sharp, and smoky flavors, Pecorino Romano is a testament to Italy’s age-old cheesemaking traditions.

From its origins as a staple in the diets of Roman soldiers to its modern-day status as a beloved international delicacy, this cheese has a fascinating story to tell.

In this ultimate guide, we’ll delve into the history, production, varieties, and uses of Pecorino Romano, offering you a unique insight into this exceptional cheese.

So, whether you’re a curious foodie, an aspiring gourmet, or just someone who loves a good piece of cheese, sit back and savor our journey into the world of Pecorino Romano.

Quick Facts About Pecorino Romano

FactDescription
OriginItaly, specifically the regions of Lazio, Sardinia, and the Province of Grosseto in Tuscany
Milk SourceSheep’s milk
TextureHard and dense
FlavorSalty and sharp
ColorPale yellow
Aging ProcessAged for at least 5 months, but often up to 8 months or more
Protected Designation of OriginPecorino Romano has PDO status in the European Union
Historical OriginsThe production of Pecorino Romano dates back to Roman times, making it one of the oldest cheeses in the world
UsesGrated over pasta, added to sauces, or eaten on its own with a drizzle of honey

What is Pecorino Romano?

Pecorino Romano is a hard, salty Italian cheese, often used for grating, made out of sheep’s milk. The name “Pecorino” comes from “pecora”, the Italian word for sheep.

Originally created in the region of Lazio, today it’s also produced in the regions of Sardinia and Tuscan Province of Grosseto. Pecorino Romano is one of the oldest cheeses in the world, with its production dating back to around 300 BC.

The cheese is straw-white in color and has a firm texture. It’s aged for a minimum of five months and during this time, it develops a sharp, tangy flavor that intensifies with additional aging.

The rind is usually black or dark grey in color, but younger versions might have a lighter, straw color. The cheese itself is crumbly, grainy, and has a slightly oily texture.

Pecorino Romano is an excellent grating cheese over pasta dishes, breads and baking casseroles. However, because of its saltiness, it is also often used in moderation as a condiment. Despite being less famous outside Italy than Parmigiano-Reggiano, it’s widely used in Italian cuisine.

Is Pecorino Romano the same as Parmesan?

Pecorino Romano and Parmesan (Parmigiano-Reggiano) are both well-known Italian cheeses, but they are not the same.

FeaturePecorino RomanoParmesan
OriginLazio, ItalyEmilia-Romagna, Italy
Milk SourceSheep’s milkCow’s milk
Flavor ProfileSharp, robust, and saltyNutty, mildly sweet, and savory
TextureHard and slightly crumblyHard and granular
Aging ProcessTypically 5-8 monthsTypically 12-36 months
Use in CuisineSouthern Italian dishes, grated over pasta and saladsNorthern Italian dishes, grated or shaved over dishes, used in risottos
AppearancePale yellow with a smooth rindLight straw color with a hard, natural golden rind
Fat ContentHigher fat content due to sheep’s milkLower fat content due to cow’s milk

Pecorino Romano:

Pecorino Romano

Pecorino Romano is made from sheep’s milk and has a sharp, robust flavor. It hails from the Lazio region around Rome, hence the name ‘Romano’.

The cheese is often used in Southern Italian cuisine and is excellent for grating over pasta dishes or salads.

Parmesan:

Parmigiano-Reggiano-Parmesan

Parmesan, on the other hand, is made from cow’s milk and is produced in the Emilia-Romagna region of Northern Italy.

Known for its complex, nutty flavor, Parmesan is aged longer than Pecorino Romano, typically between 12 and 36 months. This longer aging process results in a hard, granular texture and a rich, savory flavor.

Click here to read our in-depth guide of Parmesan

While both cheeses can be used interchangeably in some dishes due to their hard texture and salty taste, they do have distinct flavors that can influence the overall taste of a recipe.

Is Pecorino Romano healthier than Parmesan?

Pecorino Romano may have certain health benefits over Parmesan.

This hard Italian cheese made from sheep’s milk is rich in conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which is linked to lower BMIs and reduced risk of certain diseases. It also tends to be higher in protein, calcium, phosphorous, vitamin B6, and vitamin E compared to Parmesan.

Pecorino Romano is a good source of protein and calcium and is lower in lactose, making it a suitable choice for those with lactose intolerance.

Additionally, it contains vitamins B2, niacin, B12, D, zinc, and phosphorus, and is rich in vitamin A and E, powerful antioxidants that can combat signs of aging and skin diseases.

However, like all cheeses, moderation is key due to its high fat content.

Does Pecorino Romano melt better than Parmesan?

Pecorino Romano does not melt better than Parmesan.

Pecorino Romano has a high melting point and when grated, it tends to brown and leak grease rather than melt smoothly.

On the other hand, Parmesan, being less firm and slightly more moist than Pecorino Romano, melts better. This makes Parmesan a more suitable choice for dishes like pizza where a good melting cheese is required.

However, it’s worth noting that the choice between Parmesan and Pecorino Romano can depend on the specific flavor profile you’re aiming for in a dish.

Pecorino Romano has a strong, salty flavor that can be a great flavor-enhancing agent in certain dishes, while Parmesan has a smoother, less aggressive flavor that melds seamlessly into various dishes.

Pecorino Romano Nutrition Facts

Here’s a table showing the key nutrients in a 100 grams serving of Pecorino Romano cheese:

NutrientQuantity
Calories393 kcal
Protein28.6g
Total Fat32.1g
Saturated FatNot Specified
CholesterolNot Specified
SodiumNot Specified
PotassiumNot Specified
Total Carbohydrate3.57g
Dietary Fiber0g
Calcium714 mg
Vitamin ANot Specified
Please note that these values can vary slightly depending on the specific brand or type of Pecorino Romano cheese.

Why does Pecorino Romano taste so good?

The exceptional taste of Pecorino Romano can be attributed to these 5 factors:

  1. Quality of Milk: Pecorino Romano is made from sheep’s milk, which has a higher fat content than cow’s milk. This contributes to the rich and creamy texture of the cheese.
  2. Aging Process: Pecorino Romano is aged for at least eight months, and sometimes up to a year or more. During this aging process, the cheese develops complex flavors – it’s salty, sharp, and has a slightly tangy bite.
  3. Salt Content: The high salt content in Pecorino Romano enhances its flavor. Salt acts as a flavor enhancer, making the other flavors in the cheese more pronounced.
  4. Production Techniques: Traditional production techniques also contribute to the taste of Pecorino Romano. It’s a DOP (Denominazione di Origine Protetta) product, which means its production is regulated by Italian law to preserve traditional methods.
  5. Versatility: Pecorino Romano’s robust flavor makes it a versatile cheese that can stand up to a variety of dishes, from pasta to salads to soups, enhancing their flavor profiles.

Together, these factors create a cheese that is rich, flavorful, and satisfying, making Pecorino Romano a beloved choice among cheese connoisseurs.

Pecorino Romano Tasting Notes

TypeDescription
Young Pecorino RomanoWhen the cheese is young, it has a soft and rubbery texture with a sweet and aromatic flavor. It’s typically white to pale yellow in color.
Aged Pecorino RomanoAs it ages for more than eight months, the flavor becomes sharper, smokier, and saltier. It’s also known to have a pungent flavor.
Fulvi Pecorino Romano (18 months)This specific type of Pecorino Romano is aged for 18 months and has a complex flavor profile that includes briny notes of butterfat, umami, and roasted walnuts.
General Tasting NotesOverall, Pecorino Romano is known for its robust, tangy taste, sharp saltiness, and a slightly sharp salty taste. It’s crumbly in texture and is made from 100% sheep’s milk.
ComparativelyAmong other types of Pecorino, Pecorino Romano is considered the saltiest and strongest.

What cheese is closest to Pecorino Romano?

CheeseDescription
Parmigiano-Reggiano (Parmesan)Named after the Italian province of Parma, this hard cheese shares a similar texture and flavor profile with Pecorino Romano
Grana PadanoA Northern Italian cheese that is very similar to Parmigiano-Reggiano
ManchegoThis Spanish cheese shares some of the nutty and tangy flavors of Pecorino Romano
CotijaA Mexican cheese that is often used as a topping for salads, tacos, and chili, it can be a suitable substitute for Pecorino Romano
AsiagoIt’s an Italian cheese that can vary in texture depending on its aging, but it generally has a similar flavor profile to Pecorino Romano
PiaveAn Italian cow’s milk cheese, which has a similar taste and texture to Pecorino Romano
Pecorino SardoAnother type of Pecorino cheese, made from sheep’s milk on the island of Sardinia, it shares a similar flavor and texture with Pecorino Romano

What is the best way to eat Pecorino Romano?

Pecorino cheese is incredibly versatile, and there are many delicious ways to enjoy it.

  1. Grated Over Pasta: One of the most popular ways to use Pecorino Romano is grated over pasta dishes. It adds a sharp, salty flavor that pairs well with traditional Italian sauces.
  2. In Risotto: You can also mix it into risotto to give it a creamy texture and distinctive taste.
  3. Cheese Board: Pecorino also shines on a cheese board. Pair it with fresh fruit like pears or figs, or dried fruits and nuts for a delightful contrast in flavors.
  4. Baked Dishes: Use Pecorino in baked dishes like lasagna or gratin for a beautiful golden crust.
  5. Salads: Shave Pecorino over salads for a burst of flavor. It pairs particularly well with arugula, spinach, and other leafy greens.
  6. Pair with Wine: Enjoy slices of Pecorino with a glass of bold red wine or a crisp white wine.

Can you eat Pecorino Romano by itself?

Absolutely, you can eat Pecorino Romano by itself. However, because of its robust and salty flavor, a little goes a long way when eating it by itself.

Why is Pecorino Romano so expensive?

Pecorino Romano tends to be expensive due to these 5 key factors:

Factors Contributing to CostExplanation
Quality of IngredientsPecorino Romano is made from sheep’s milk, which can be more expensive than cow’s milk. The quality of the milk plays a significant role in the final product’s price.
Aging ProcessThis cheese is aged for at least eight months, and sometimes even longer. The aging process requires time and proper storage conditions, adding to the overall cost.
Production RegulationsAs a DOP (Denominazione di Origine Protetta) product, Pecorino Romano must adhere to strict production regulations set by Italian law. This ensures the preservation of traditional methods, which can be more labor-intensive and costly compared to mass production techniques.
Import CostsFor those purchasing Pecorino Romano outside of Italy, import costs such as tariffs can significantly increase the price of the cheese.
Demand and SupplyThe demand for high-quality cheese like Pecorino Romano often exceeds supply, leading to higher prices.

Substituting Pecorino Romano for Cheddar depends on the specific recipe and personal taste preferences.

The two cheeses have quite different characteristics:

  • Flavor: Pecorino Romano has a strong, salty flavor, while cheddar is typically milder and can range in flavor from mild to sharp depending on its age.
  • Texture: Pecorino Romano is hard and good for grating, while cheddar is generally softer and melts well.

If the recipe calls for a cheese that melts well (like in a grilled cheese sandwich or macaroni and cheese), cheddar would be a better fit. But if you’re making a dish where the cheese is used as a topping and a sharper, more pungent flavor is desired (like in some pasta dishes), Pecorino Romano might be an interesting alternative.

However, keep in mind that Pecorino Romano’s strong flavor can dominate a dish, so it’s best to use it sparingly if you’re using it as a substitute for cheddar.

>> Click here to read our in-depth guide to Cheddar

Can I use mozzarella instead of Pecorino Romano?

Mozzarella can be used as a substitute for Pecorino Romano in certain dishes, but it’s important to note that they have different characteristics which can significantly affect the final result:

  • Flavor: Mozzarella has a mild, milky flavor compared to the strong and salty flavor of Pecorino Romano.
  • Texture: Mozzarella is a soft, stretchy cheese that melts well, while Pecorino Romano is a hard, crumbly cheese that’s often grated.

If the recipe calls for a cheese that melts into a smooth, creamy texture (like in a pizza or lasagna), mozzarella could work well.

However, if you’re looking for a cheese to grate over pasta dishes or to use in a Caesar salad, Pecorino Romano would be a better choice due to its stronger flavor and harder texture.

Remember, the substitution might change the flavor profile of your dish, so it’s best to consider what role the cheese plays in your recipe before deciding on a substitute.

>> Click here to read our in-depth guide to Mozzarella

What are the Different Types of Pecorino Romano

There are different types of Pecorino cheese, and while they all share some characteristics, they each have their own unique flavor profiles. Here are the four main types:

TypeDescription
Pecorino RomanoThis is the most common type and is produced in Lazio, Sardinia, and in the Tuscan Province of Grosseto. It has a strong, salty flavor and is often used in pasta dishes.
Pecorino SardoAlso known as Fiore Sardo, this cheese is produced in Sardinia. It is less salty than Pecorino Romano and has a more mellow, buttery flavor.
Pecorino ToscanoThis cheese is produced in Tuscany and is softer and more delicate in flavor than the other types. It can be eaten as is or used in cooking.
Pecorino SicilianoAlso known as Piacentinu Ennese, this cheese is produced in Sicily and is unique due to the addition of saffron and black peppercorns, which give it a distinctive flavor and color.

Each type of Pecorino cheese has its own specific Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status by the European Union, which ensures that they are produced using traditional methods and in specific regions of Italy.

Pecorino Romano Pairing Guide

What food goes well with Pecorino?

  1. Fruits: Pears, apples, and grapes complement the salty taste of Pecorino. Dried fruits like figs and apricots also pair well.
  2. Nuts: Almonds, walnuts, and hazelnuts can add a nice crunch and balance to the creaminess of the cheese.
  3. Bread and Crackers: A slice of rustic bread or whole grain crackers can be a great carrier for this cheese.
  4. Charcuterie: Prosciutto, salami, and other cured meats pair beautifully with Pecorino.
  5. Honey and Jams: The sweetness of honey or fruit jams contrasts nicely with the saltiness of the cheese. Try truffle honey for a gourmet touch.
  6. Olives: The briny flavor of olives complements the cheese well.
  7. Pasta dishes: Pecorino is often grated over pasta dishes, especially those with a carbonara or cacio e pepe sauce.

Also read: 11 Best Crackers that Pair Well with Cheese

What beverages go well with Pecorino?

  1. Wine: Pecorino is a bold, salty cheese that can stand up to robust wines. Try pairing it with Italian reds like Chianti, Barbera, or Brunello di Montalcino. For white wine lovers, a crisp Pecorino wine or a Vermentino would work well too.
  2. Beer: Full-bodied beers such as IPAs, amber ales, or stouts can complement the strong flavors of Pecorino. A Belgian-style Saison could also be a good match.
  3. Cider: Dry cider, particularly those with a bit of funk or tartness, can pair well with Pecorino, echoing its tangy, sheepy qualities.
  4. Port: The sweetness of a tawny port can serve as a nice counterpoint to the saltiness of the cheese.
  5. Whiskey: A peaty Scotch or a rich bourbon can hold its own against Pecorino’s robust flavor.

Also read: Best Wine and Cheese Pairings: The Ultimate Guide

The Pros and Cons of Pecorino Romano

Benefits:

  1. Flavor: Pecorino Romano has a unique, sharp, and salty flavor that can add depth to a variety of dishes, from pasta to salads.
  2. Versatility: It can be used both as a table cheese and as a grating cheese, making it quite versatile in the kitchen.
  3. Nutrition: It is a good source of protein and calcium. Also, since it’s made from sheep’s milk, it might be easier for some people to digest than cheese made from cow’s milk.
  4. Long Shelf Life: Due to its hard texture and salting process, Pecorino Romano has a relatively long shelf life compared to softer cheeses.

Drawbacks:

  1. Sodium Content: Pecorino Romano is quite high in salt, which could be a problem for those monitoring their sodium intake.
  2. Fat Content: While it’s a good source of protein and calcium, it’s also high in saturated fat.
  3. Strong Flavor: Its strong flavor can be overpowering if not used sparingly. It might not be appreciated by everyone, especially those who prefer milder cheeses.
  4. Price: Imported Pecorino Romano, particularly high-quality aged varieties, can be expensive.

A Taste of Time: The Rich History of Pecorino Romano

Pecorino Romano, a cheese steeped in history and tradition, has been a culinary staple for over two millennia. Originating in the idyllic countryside of Lazio and Sardinia, Italy, this cheese is crafted from the milk of free-grazing sheep, a practice that has stood the test of time.

The origins of Pecorino Romano are deeply rooted in the Roman Empire. The cheese was an integral part of the diet of Roman soldiers, providing much-needed sustenance during their arduous campaigns. The ancient Romans held this aged sheep’s milk cheese in high esteem, with some of the Empire’s most notable figures documenting its production methods.

Over the centuries, the art of making Pecorino Romano has been meticulously passed down through generations, preserving its unique flavor and quality. It remains one of Italy’s oldest and most renowned cheeses, with various types of Pecorino sharing the same Mediterranean heritage.

Today, Pecorino Romano cheese is primarily manufactured in the regions around Rome and in Sardinia. It is highly regarded for its extra-hard texture and distinctive taste, making it a favorite among cheese connoisseurs worldwide.

In essence, the story of Pecorino Romano transcends the boundaries of time. From the banquets of ancient Rome to the gourmet kitchens of today, this cheese has remained a timeless symbol of Italy’s rich culinary legacy.

Conclusion

Pecorino Romano is not just a cheese; it’s a versatile ingredient that can add depth and character to a variety of dishes. Despite its high sodium and fat content, its nutritional benefits, including being a good source of protein and calcium, cannot be overlooked.

Whether you prefer the mild, young Pecorino Romano or the robust, aged variety, this cheese is sure to be a star in your kitchen.

Remember, though, to use it sparingly due to its strong flavor and high salt content.

Exploring Pecorino Romano is indeed a journey into the heart of Italian cuisine, offering a taste of history with every bite.

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