Pecorino cheese in Tuscany has ancient origins reaching back to Etruscan times. Historical reference to its production can be found in Pliny the Elder’s writings regarding the area of Luni (present-day Lunigiana). Sheep-raising continued to spread throughout Tuscany during the Middle Ages and the example of the young Giotto painting on stones while his flock grazed in the area of Vicchio del Mugello is emblematic. During the following centuries numerous documents and writings appeared praising Tuscan pecorino cheese which was called cacio marzolino because production traditionally began in March and continued throughout the spring.
With the exception of the crisis which drastically reduced the number of sheep raised in Tuscany from 1918 until the post-war period and thus the amount of pecorino produced, Tuscan sheep-raising constantly increased. The first dairies were born and there was a separation of the figure of the shepherd, the one who raised the sheep, from the dairyman, the actual cheese maker.
Pecorino Toscano PDO is made from whole sheep’s milk with the addition of veal rennet; the paste is subjected to cooking and breaking until curd granules form that vary in size from that of a kernel of corn for “semi-hard” paste to the size of a hazelnut for “soft”. Then it is pressed and salted before being matured for variable periods of time depending on the culinary destination of the cheese.
The finished product is smooth-faced and cylindrical in shape with a diameter between 15 and 22 cm; the vertical circumference (scalzo) is slightly convex, 7-11 cm high; each form can weigh between 1 and 3.5 kg. The rind can be varying shades of yellow while the paste is pale yellow and delicate in flavour with a light piquant aspect.
Pecorino Toscano can be consumed as a table cheese or for grinding, depending on its maturation. Grated, it is used as a condiment for ribollita and pasta dishes as well as flavouring for meat-based second course dishes. When sliced, whether it is ripened or fresh, it goes well with honey, preserves, and fresh seasonal fruit and vegetables. Soft Pecorino Toscano is well accompanied by white wines such as “Biano di Pitigliano” or “Monteregio Bianco”, while ripened Pecorino Toscano goes well with red wines like “Morellino di Scansano”, “Chianti Classico”, “Montecucco Rosso” or, if ripened for more than eight months, “Brunello di Montalcino”.
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