The cheese of the month for March 2022 is: Pecorino Romano. From Sardinia.

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With 20 to 35 kilograms Pecorino Romano is a whopper of a cheese, the largest of its kind. At the same time this Roman sheep’s milk cheese – because that’s all his name literally means – is a real underdog. When did you last buy this hard, crumbly buddy freshly cut from a large cylindric wheel? Exactly, I can’t remember either. Possibly in Sardinia, but even there I’m not so sure.

It’s not that this would be a rare and hard to find cheese. Last season’s production was more than 34,000 tons (to put this into context: Comté production was at 64,000 tons – but that’s France’s most produced and consumed cheese). And although more than 70 percent of that goes above all to the US, there is surely no shortage this side of the Atlantic. Still, it shows up almost exclusively as pre-cut, plastic-wrapped wedge shouting “grate me”. Our loss, missing out on its beautifully rich, slightly crumbly kick combining acidity and salt…

Pecorino Romano is a true child of the Mediterranean, quite strongly salted, to withstand the climate’s vagaries without modern cooling technology, and it’s been around long enough to provide Caesar’s troops with their daily ration of protein. It’s been the first Italian cheese to be protected – and yet, without any doubt, without the Italian emigrants making it “their” cheese in the US, it would have long been supplanted by other cheeses. Today very little is produced around Rome, in the Lazio (and neighbouring parts of Tuscany), Sardinia being the true hub (where it’s not much spoken of, and certainly not with pride – but that’s a different story). The milk must be from sheep in those defined areas, processed either raw or thermised, and coagulated with a paste made from lambs’ abomasums of exactly those sheep.

And of course, Pecorino Romano loves to be used in the kitchen! The other day, the Pecorino Cup, a competition for chef trainees, was an excellent opportunity to study all its potential facets. I felt beamed back in time, though contrary to 40 years ago, I was now part of the jury, not behind the stove (and there were many more women present – hooray). I was truly impressed! My favourites were mayonnaise made with blood oranges and Pecorino, fish skin chips with Pecorino, a lemon risotto, ravioli with Pecorino in the filling AND pasta dough, and a pecorino and thyme gelato. There is so much to discover…

his a monthly series which I have been publishing for quite some years. You can subscribe here, to get the latest cheese delivered directly on to your screen.

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