Pecorino Romano is a hard, compact Italian sheep's milk cheese with a sharp and salty flavor that is ideal for grating and flavoring dishes. Its name derives from the Italian word pecorino, which means "sheep" and the Roman era during which the cheese was a food staple. Today, it is one of the most well-known Italian cheeses outside of Italy—high in protein, high in fat, and a rich source of calcium.
• Made from: Sheep's milk
• Origin: Lazio and Sardinia regions of Italy
• Texture: Crumbly, flaky, grainy
• Rind: Natural
What Is Pecorino Romano?
Pecorino Romano is an ancient Italian cheese made from 100% sheep's milk. The milk comes from sheep bred in the wild and fed on natural pastures in Lazio, the province of Grosseto in Tuscany, and the island of Sardinia. It is one of four Italian sheep's milk cheeses that benefits from protected designation of origin (P.D.O.) status and continues to be made using only traditional methods in its areas of origin.
Pecorino Romano is a hard cheese with a smooth, thin, natural rind. It's white to pale straw in color, and it's distinguished by its crumbly texture and an intense salty flavor which increases with age. Forms of Pecorino Romano are cylindrical and weigh between 44 pounds (20 kg) and 77 pounds (35 kg). Before release, the cheese is marked with a sheep's head inside a diamond, and the rind is stamped with dotted letters spelling out the area of designation. Depending on the area of production—Lazio, Sardegna (Sardinia), or Grosseto—the logo of the area can also be displayed.
Pecorino Romano vs. Parmigiano-Reggiano
While Pecorino Romano and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese have similar uses, they are different. Parmigiano-Reggiano is a hard cow's milk cheese. It's nuttier and sweeter than Pecorino Romano, which is decidedly saltier. Depending on the recipe, Pecorino Romano and Parmigiano-Reggiano can be interchangeable or combined, and they are both ideal grating cheeses.
How Pecorino Romano Is Made
Fresh whole sheep's milk is filtered and treated to eliminate any microorganisms that may hinder the cheese-making process. The milk is then heated and coagulated with lamb rennet. The curds are finely cut, approximately to the size of rice, and pressed. The pressed cheese is placed into drum-shaped molds and left to purge the whey. Once cooled, the cheese is branded and salted for 80 to 100 days. For the first few days, the cheese is turned and rubbed with coarse salt daily, then every three to four days, and finally weekly. The cheese is then aged for eight to 12 months prior to release. After five months, a young Pecorino Romano can be marketed as a table cheese, and after eight months, it can be marketed as a grating cheese. Young Pecorino Romano is soft and sweet. As it ages it develops a dry, flaky, granular texture and a sharp, salty, spicy flavor.
Pecorino Romano is one of the most popular cheeses in Italy, and it's widely exported to the U.S. Most versions of Pecorino Romano are gluten free and unpasteurized (cheese prepared for export to the U.S. is pasteurized) but not vegetarian, due to the addition of animal rennet.
Pecorino Romano is an exceptional grating cheese. Its salty milkiness adds umami flavor when sprinkled over or mixed into a variety of dishes including pizza, pasta, salads, meatballs and patties, soups, and stews. Sprinkle as a salty condiment over bread, potatoes, and roasted vegetables, or mix it into breadcrumbs, dressings, and sauces. Pecorino can be combined with melting cheese, such as Gruyère or fontina, in casseroles and gratins, and it can be combined with or substituted for grated Parmesan cheeses. It's important to remember that if you add Pecorino Romano to a recipe that doesn't call for it, you should adjust the salt seasoning in the recipe.
Store the Pecorino Romano in the meat or dairy drawer of your refrigerator wrapped tightly in parchment, waxed, or butcher paper for up to six weeks. If any mold forms, thoroughly cut around the mold, taking care to not touch the mold with your knife. You can also freeze hand-sized portions wrapped in foil, or grate the cheese and store it in a zip-close bag with the air compressed and freeze for up to six months.
Pecorino Romano Recipes
Pecorino Romano adds a salty kick of flavor as a key ingredient and as a finishing garnish to a range of baked and fresh dishes, salads, sauces, and condiments.
Can You Eat the Rind?
Pecorino Romano has a natural rind, but the result of its long aging will make it tough to eat. You can save the rind and add it to soups and stews as a flavor enhancer as you would with a Parmesan rind. Wrap and freeze the rind in plastic or a zip-close bag with the air compressed for up to six months until use. Its strength of flavor will diminish over time.