There are undeniably thousands of reasons visitors travel to Italy on holiday. However, some of the most pleasurable experiences our small group tours of Italy offer are the chances to feast and sip on the finest foods and wines in the country. When we visit Tuscany we also include opportunities in Pienza for tasting the region’s renowned Pecorino cheese. A few artisan cheese-makers in the area still use the traditional methods and ingredients to create the most prized Pecorino di Pienza. |
An Art or Science?
Like many of Italy’s greatest products, cheese making relies upon favourable conditions from Mother Nature. Pecorino, in particular, requires high quality sheep’s milk, in abundance. The guests who join our small group tours of Italy’s Tuscan region frequently come across herds of sheep grazing in lush pastures. What, and how much these sheep eat directly affects the quality, quantity and flavour of the cheese.
A Feast for the Eyes
One of the highlights of our small group tours of Italy is the vast amount of knowledge our guides have about the local area. They not only know the terrain and the landscape but also the best locations, off the beaten path, to experience the truly authentic essence of Tuscany and its people’s passion for their trades. Small organic farms still produce Pecorino with methods that are at least 35 centuries old. This labour of love is an interesting and curious process to observe. Here are the basic steps used to produce Pecorino, although it is worth remembering that a great deal of heart and soul go into what may appear to be a very scientific process. • Firstly, fresh sheep’s milk is slowly warmed to 70F. • Rennet is added, causing the milk to curdle as it is heated. • When the milk reaches 40F, salt is added and then more sheep’s milk. • Once the milk reaches the desired temperature the curds separate from the whey. • The cheese-maker will then shape the curds into logs that are placed into baskets and then firmly pressed to remove any further excess liquid. • Once drained and re-shaped the wheels are aged for 21 days at 50F. • They are then moved to a cellar for a minimum of four months at 57F. • Only then can they be known as Pecorino Toscano.
Our small group tours of Italy’s finest Tuscan cheese-makers introduce our guests to a very unique experience. Some Pecorino, made by the local farms that we visit on our journey, have achieved DOP designation. The ‘Denominazione d’Origine Protetta’ (DOP) is a certification given only to truly authentic regional products. The Pecorino enjoyed by guests today is made with the same ingredients and methods used by the Romans centuries ago. It is literally a taste of the past.
Pecorino’s Uses Today
Pecorino, made using traditional methods, has a granular and dry texture made possible by its lengthy aging process. Most Pecorino is dry-salted by hand numerous times during its four to twelve months of aging. The result is a salty, sharp, and even smoky flavour that pairs well with pasta, breads and bold red wines.
Small group tours of Italy’s finest wines and cheeses found in Tuscany are truly a treat for both connoisseurs and the curious. Some of the best recipes that include Pecorino cheese are also the simplest. One of our favourites is Cacio e Pepe, which is simply pasta, cheese and black pepper. The pure unadulterated flavours of all of the ingredients beautifully shines through in this recipe which is a fine example of the Italians’ love of simple but amazing ingredients.
Antonio Nobile is Tour Operator & Researcher at Caspin Journeys, a specialist provider of small group tours of Italy, England and Spain. Following in the footsteps of the company founders Pino and Caroline, he has exceptional insider knowledge and a personal devotion to all the tours he organises.
Related Articles -
Small, group, tours, of, Italy,