Pecorino romano, a glorious history, itinerant production

Pecorino romano, a glorious history, itinerant production

Pecorino romano

The ancient Romans already counted this cheese as part of the nutritional tradition and it was savoured during the most pompous of imperial banquets and by the nobility of this civilization. Its capacity to be preserved for an extended period of time made it irreplaceable for soldiers as well, as it could provide them with strength and vigour when they were obliged to march long distances.

These properties resulted in pecorino being included in the rations of the Roman legionnaire, which called for one ounce (27 grams) to be added to spelt soups and bread: this information was handed down to us by no one less than Virgil himself. But this popular bard was not the only one to mention pecorino in Roman times: Varrone spoke of it and after him, the agricultural writer Columella described how it is made.

At a certain point, the tradition of Pecorino romano spread as far as Sardinia, and so it became an “itinerant” production, but not very recently: a document dated at 227 B.C. the arrival of this cheese on the island and today, even if the PDO brand (dated 1955) and strict regulatory standards protect its integrity, most of the forms bearing the name of Pecorino romano PDO are produced in Sardinia, while fewer are also produced in Latium and in the province of Grosseto, in Tuscany.

pecorino romanoThis means that all the production processes, from the raising of the livestock to the aging, must take place in these zones. And not only the sheep, but also the lambs that provide the rennet and lactic cultures, must be local. Perhaps it is precisely this strict standards that make this cheese one of the strong points of Made in Italy, sought out not only to be eaten alone, but also as an ingredient, above all in soup and pasta dishes. On the processing front, the aspect that makes this top-of-the-line inimitable is the aging, which is never less than 12 months, but can amount to 18 for sharper types, so they can even be classified in the category of ‘Hard aged cheeses’, ideal to be served in slivers, while there is a large clientele that also grate it.

Ideally, it is best to find a fine balance between flavour, aroma, consistency, and nutritional values for this ‘champion‘ of cheeses: a harmony that makes it unique, but that can often be ruined by being excessively salty. This is its triumph, but can also be its flaw. So it is precisely this flavour that distinguishes masterful producers from common ones.

Maurizio Ferrari
Journalist and ONAF Taster