In Italian, “pecora” means sheep. It makes sense then, that sheep’s milk cheeses from Italy are called “pecorino.” There are several types of pecorino, the most famous (and oldest) probably being Pecorino Romano from Rome. That’s not the cheese I’m profiling here, however. No, I landed on my 23rd cheese partly through circumstance. I knew I wanted to write about a pecorino at some point on this blog because, in my opinion, it is one of the best styles of cheeses out there (sheep’s milk + Italian = infallible combination). On the Friday after this past Thanksgiving, I found myself on Arthur Avenue, the heart of The Bronx’s “Little Italy.” The street was lined with authentic Italian restaurants, bakeries, butcher shops and of course, cheese shops. I found a sweet little cheese counter at an indoor market and asked about their pecorinos.
“What’s the oldest pecorino you got?”
“This one’s aged two years. It’s Sicilian.”
I was sold.
So no, this post is not about Pecorino Romano but rather Pecorino Siciliano from Sicily.
Cheesemaking in Sicily dates back to when the island was ruled by ancient Greeks. Today, Sicily is the second largest producer of ewe’s milk cheese right behind Sardinia. If you’ve seen a wheel of pecorino before, you’ll recall the pattern of grooves on its rind. This is because pecorinos are traditionally aged in wicker baskets, which give them their signature indented pattern.
Usually you can tell when a cheese is NOT made with cow’s milk. Cow’s milk cheeses are notably more yellow than sheep, goat and buffalo milk cheeses, whose colors tend to be paler, more white. This is because cows store beta carotene from their fodder in their fat differently than their livestock counterparts. Therefore, most pecorinos you see are pretty white. However, if a cheese is aged for a particularly long time, like my Pecorino Siciliano, it bears a deeper color.
Procuring and Tasting:
You can find pecorinos almost anywhere, but you won’t have as much luck finding Pecorino Siciliano. I had never heard of Pecorino Siciliano until the cheesemonger at Arthur Avenue sold it to me. You’re better off calling ahead, as I imagine most stores carry the more well known iterations, i.e. Pecorino Romano. *Make sure you don’t get American-made Romano, which is not the same and is often made with cow’s milk.*
Pecorino Siciliano is not for the faint of heart, as it is highly barnyardy. You would know it’s made from sheep’s milk without me telling you because that farmy, natural taste hits you right away. This pecorino was also piquant and fruity.
Cooking with Pecorino Siciliano:
I had to make a classic cacio e pepe dish with pecorino. However, instead of making it with pasta, I substituted with potatoes instead. How can you go wrong with cheese and pepper?