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D - 11: Pecorino

Updated: Mar 26, 2021

It never occurred to me that someone could blend bread and cheese but people in Genoa do so with their Pecorino Focaccia. There are so many recipes on the internet! Amazing variety! Most of them in Italian. I won’t have enough space to list all the possible combinations here. Some people finely chop prosciutto crudo and pecorino and mix it into the dough, other top the dough with figs cooked in honey before putting in the oven or just add a little bit of aged pecorino, slice the bread once baked and add peppers slowly roasted in balsamic vinegar in the middle. All absolutely yummie! I guess we will have to do a full culinary Focaccia seminar in Genoa!

The big variety of Pecorino cheese – always good for a chat with the local vendors

On closer look, it is not surprising that Pecorino plays such an important role in the Genovese cuisine. Most of Sardinia was for centuries a colony or at least closely aligned with the powerful Ligurian capital and far more fertile than the rougher sister island to the north. The four million sheep on the island provided wool for Genoa’s textile industry but also its winter food. With today’s technology we tend to forget how much work was necessary to survive winter. In the absence of cold storage, everything had to be pickled or dried, then stored away and be protected for months. Rodents liked to survive in as much as humans - sic! Pecorino, the cheese from sheep milk was the perfect winter storage for protein, fat and salt. The cheese is not difficult to make, easily lasts for two years, is hard on the outside and not difficult to transport. The perfect product for a hungry big town! And what complements the carbs from the stored durum wheat better than Pecorino? Not much!

4 million sheep in Sardinia provide ample milk for making Pecorino

Pecorino has a long tradition in Italy’s history. It was already a staple food during Roman times and the writer Plinius praised its quality in his books. Since it was produced locally, it survived the collapse of the Roman Empire – unlike Garum, the fish sauce, which disappeared when the Empire dissolved. We find references to Pecorino throughout the Middle Ages in many textbooks. Was looking for a Roman mosaic with Pecorino but unfortunately could not find one.

Pecorino is made from raw milk which is inoculated with a natural culture, scotta fermento. The milk is coagulated at 39 C. After cutting, the curds are cooked at 45 C and placed in moulds, pressed and pierced with fingers to increase drainage. The cheese is ripened for up to 12 months at 10 14 C to develop its flavor. It is cylindrical in shape, around 30 cm high and 25 cm in diameter. It weighs 22–32 kg.

Making Pecorino cheese

Today, Pecorino is Italy’s signature cheese. It is not only produced in Sardinia but also on mainland Italy, primarily in Tuscany. I encountered it the first time almost fifty years ago, when David and I worked in his olive orchard in central Tuscany. We basically lived from bread with olive oil, pecorino cheese, prosciutto crudo and Chianti. I never forget our lunch breaks in the shadow of the fig trees of Protine.

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