Pecorino Romano is a hard, salty Italian cheese, often used for grating, made out of sheep’s milk (the Italian word pecora, from which the name derives, means sheep). Pecorino Romano was a staple in the diet for the legionaries of ancient Rome. Today, it is still made according to the original recipe and is one of Italy’s oldest cheeses but, despite the name, most of its production occurs in Sardinia. On the first of May, Roman families traditionally eat Pecorino with fresh fava beans, during a daily excursion in the Roman Campagna. It is mostly used in Central and Southern Italy.
Overview of Pecorino Romano
Pecorino Romano cheese, whose method of production was first described by Latin authors like Varro and Pliny the Elder about 2,000 years ago, was first created in the countryside around Rome. It was produced in Latium up to 1884 when, due to the prohibition issued by the city council of salting the cheese inside their shops in Rome, many producers moved to the island of Sardinia. It is produced exclusively from the milk of sheep raised on the plains of Lazio and in Sardinia. Most of the cheese is now produced on the island, especially in Gavoi. Pecorino Romano must be made with lamb rennet paste derived exclusively from animals raised in the same production area, and is therefore not compatible with vegetarianism.
Pecorino Romano is most often used on pasta dishes, like the better-known Parmigiano Reggiano. Its distinctive aromatic, pleasantly sharp, very salty flavour means that in Italian cuisine, it is preferred for some pasta dishes with highly flavoured sauces, especially those of Roman origin, such as Bucatini all’amatriciana or Spaghetti alla Carbonara. The sharpness depends on the period of maturation, which varies from five months for a table cheese to at least eight months for a grating cheese. It should not be confused with Pecorino Toscano (from Tuscany) or Pecorino Sardo (from Sardinia). Unlike Pecorino Romano, these cheeses (which are not particularly salty) are generally eaten by themselves or in sandwiches. Many stores in the United States sell a product labeled “Romano cheese”, which should not be confused to genuine Pecorino Romano which is a typical Italian product recognised and protected by the laws of the European Community.
Using Pecorino Romano Cheese
Pecorino Romano is one of most widely used, sharper alternatives to Parmesan cheeses. Because of the hard texture and sharp & salty flavour, Pecorino Romano is an excellent grating cheese over pasta dishes, breads and baking casseroles. Although, the use of the cheese is limited because of its extreme saltiness. Pair it with a glass of big, bold Italian red wine or a light beer.
Substitutions for Pecorino Romano Cheese
- Parmesan (not as sharp and salty)
- Asiago (sweeter)
- Sapsago (low-fat)
- Nutritional Yeast (This substitution works best if recipe calls for cheese to be sprinkled over a dish. Nutritional yeast is low in fat, high in protein and B vitamins, and it’s not made with any animal products.)
- Cheese Substitute (as a pizza topping)
- Oil-cured Black Olives (as a pizza topping)
- Seasoned Breadcrumbs (as a pizza topping)
Summary of Pecorino Romano Cheese
- Made from pasteurised or unpasteurised cows or sheeps milk
- Country of origin: Italy
- Type: hard
- Texture: crumbly, dense, flaky and grainy
- Rind: natural
- Colour: pale yellow
- Flavour: salty, sharp, smokey, spicy
- Aroma: nutty, strong
- Vegetarian: no