Abruzzo Pecorino Cheese - Pecorino d’Abruzzo
Pecorino cheese is one of the icon products of Abruzzo.
It is produced throughout the territories of transhumance, which nowadays can be identified with the protected areas of the three National Parks and the Sirente Velino Regional Park. Obviously each site has its own techniques for manufacturing the cheese.
This is a hard or semi-hard paste cheese, dry and lightly scattered with eyes, and is made from whole ewe’s milk, with the addition of animal rennet (sheep or goats), salt. The cheese is made by filtering the milk into a cauldron to remove any impurities. The milk is then heated to 36-38°C and sometimes whey or starter cultures may be used to improve acidification by adding thermophilic microbial lactic flora. When coagulation temperature is reached, calf rennet is then added, to make the milk clot, the amounts used being defined by the strength of the rennet itself and the acidity of the milk; the mass is shaken for a few minutes. This is then left to rest for 20-30 minutes to complete coagulation. The texture of the curds obtained is checked and then they are roughly broken up with a skimmer, then, after a short pause, the curds are further broken up and refined into fragments the size of a grain of corn. When ready, the curds are hand-ladled into small baskets (called “fuscelle”), then set on the “tavolo spersorio” (a sloping workbench) to encourage whey to drain out.
The cheese is then blanched in boiling whey for several minutes, then left to purge for two days, and during this period the cheese is turned at least four times. Lastly the cheese is salted in one of two ways: in brine for 18% of the product weight, which is a quicker process taking about six hours; or it is dry salted by scattering salt on the upper surface of the cheese and on the rim, then turning it in the basket and scattering salt on the other surface about 12 hours later; the salted cheese is left to rest for about 12 hours in the basket. The cheeses are left to age on a cane trellis or on wooden shelves, in ventilated premises with a temperature of 10-15°C, for about three weeks, and are turned every two days. After a month the cheeses are brushed with extra virgin olive oil. They are then aged in cool premises (temperature 10-14°C and relative humidity 85-90% ), for up to one year.
The product may be consumed fresh or when just aged, although its traits come into their own when it has been completely aged, which means its acquires an intense aroma that may even be slightly piquant.
Pecorino cheese is typical transhumance product, deriving from the ancient form of land management in Southern Italy. Alongside curd cheese and ricotta, consumes fresh, “micischia” (salted, sun-dried mutton), until just 50 years ago, Pecorino was part of the staple diet of the shepherds who moved between Apulia and Abruzzo with their flocks, following the nature’s seasonal cycle, seeking pastures that diversified the foodfor the stock and conferred quite unique aromas and fragrance on produce.
Proper ageing is crucial for Pecorino as it enhances the aromas further. There are still transhumant shepherds who move their flocks between Apulia and Abruzzo, and in any case all shepherds take their flocks up and down themountainside. The use of mountain pastures and the traditional transformation techniques applied mean that modern Pecorino still has the customary traits of a transhumance cheese.