Atri Pecorino Cheese
This is compact, semi-cooked paste cheese, produced in the Atri (Province of Teramo) district and made from ewe’s milk, with the addition of rennet of animal origin, preferably from sheep or goats, and salt.
The rind is of varying degrees of hardness depending on how long the cheese has been cured and has the typical hatching left by the rush baskets used as containers.
The aroma and flavour vary in intensity depending on the age, which goes from 40 days to 2 years, and also derive from the plants in the grass and the forage eaten by the flocks. When preserved in extra virgin olive
oil the product acquires a delicate and pleasantly piquant flavour.
The milk is filtered into a cauldron, then heated to about 36°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 the about an hour 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. This is then heated for 10 minutes to about 45-50°C. When ready, the curds are hand-ladled into small baskets (called “fuscelle”), then left for two days on the “tavolo spersorio” (a sloping workbench) to encourage whey to drain out. During these two days the cheese is turned over at least four times.
Lastly dry salting may be started by scattering salt on the upper surface of the cheese and on the rim, turning it in the basket about 12 hours later, then scattering salt on the remaining surface, leaving for about 12 more hours in
the basket, but it is more common for the salting to be done in brine. The salt is removed from the surface of the cheeses and they are removed from the baskets, then left to age on a cane trellis or on wooden shelves, in naturally ventilated premises at a temperature of 10-15°C, for about three weeks, and are turned every two days until a rind forms. The cheese is then ready to age and after a month it will be treated regularly with extra virgin olive oil to prevent the formation of mould and to stop the rind from cracking.
Atri Pecorino is also preserved in extra virgin olive oil-filled jars and in this case it will be ready to eat only after 6-8 months.
In such a mountainous region, livestock has been a vital source of income for local populations since time immemorial. Over the years characteristic cheeses have been developed that are an expression of the history and culture of the people of Abruzzo. This activity was actively undertaken by the populations who lived in this region: Piceno, Vestino, Marrucino, Peligno, Frentano and Samnite tribes.
Shepherding in Abruzzo is rooted in the mists of time. The earliest testimonies of a shepherding economy, typical of transhumant peoples, along the Apennine chain, can be dated as 1400-1300 BC, but it was during the Roman era and later from the ninth century, that this reached the apex of its development and greatest economic importance. The history and culture of Abruzzo are inevitably permeated by culture rooted in sheep-rearing. Proof of this can be seen in the façades of upper-class homes, symbols used to decorate pottery. The Abruzzo landscape has no lack of other signs, like tholos huts on Mount Majella and the road system constituted by the sheep tracks.