Italian flavors: Sardinian Pecorino
- WTI Magazine #110 Dec 15, 2018
The first historical information on the techniques for producing Sardinian cheeses comes from the end of the eighteenth century. The cheeses made at that time were referred to as bianchi (whites), rossi fini (fine reds), affumicati (smoked), fresa and spiatatu. Rosso fino and affumicato could be considered the ancestors of Pecorino Sardo DOP.
These cheese were made from raw milk or milk heated by immersing red-hot stones in it, which killed the bacteria. Some manufacturers used to carry out semicottura (semi-cooking), or as it was described in slang, they “put the curd over the heat”.
At the beginning of the twentieth century some new basic practices gradually became widespread, such as the use of the thermometer, filtration of the milk, the use of titrated liquid rennet and modern machinery that made the processes more hygienic. During this period, several important scholars in the field spoke of a sweet pecorino, made with liquid calf rennet and by cooking the curd then compressing the cheese with a press.
In the post-war period and especially in the 1960s, several important technological innovations were introduced concerning the improvement of the hygienic conditions of the processing, the rationalisation of the heat treatment, the semicottura and the addition of lactic acid bacteria and rennet.
The new, larger markets that were opening up on the horizon of Italy, which was undergoing full economic recovery, required products that were safe from the perspective of hygiene and sanitation, with defined organoleptic qualities and ease of use.
For this reason, the 1960s onwards saw a continuous and progressive improvement in the activities connected to the processing of sheep’s milk, and on-going refinement of the technology characteristic of the production of ‘Pecorino Sardo’, which continues to comply with teachings of tradition fully and completely in the present day.
Pecorino Sardo DOP is an excellent table cheese that comes in two types with different sizes and organoleptic characteristics, namely sweet and mature.
It is made exclusively from whole sheep’s milk from the area of origin. The milk is inoculated with local lactic acid bacteria cultures and subsequently coagulated at a temperature between 35° and 39° C, with sufficient quantities of calf rennet to complete the coagulation in around 35-40 minutes.
Next, the cheese is broken down until the curd forms hazelnut-sized pieces for the sweet type, and rice kernel-sized pieces for the mature type. The curd then undergoes semicottura at a temperature no greater than 43°C and is subsequently placed in special circular moulds, the dimensions of which vary depending on the use of the finished produced.
The cheese obtained in this way is subjected to stufatura (warm, humid aging) and/or pressing in temperatures and for lengths of time that allow for optimum acidification and curdling. Once the curdling is complete, the whey is salted while wet or dry. This is followed by the maturation-aging stage, which takes place in special rooms with controlled temperature and humidity. The maturing period for sweet Pecorino Sardo is between 20 and 60 days, while for the mature variant it is at least 2 months.
After maturing, sweet Pecorino Sardo has a diameter of 16-18 cm on the top and bottom, measures 8-10 cm on the side and weighs 1.5-2.3 kg. It has a cylindrical shape with a flat top and bottom and straight or slightly convex side. The crust is smooth and thin with a white or pale straw colour. The cheese is white, soft, compact or with sparsely distributed holes; the flavour is sweet and aromatic.
Mature Pecorino Sardo DOP, conversely, has a diameter on the top and bottom of 20 cm, its side measures 10-11 cm and it weighs 2.8-4 Kg. It has a cylindrical shape with a flat top and bottom and straight side. The crust is smooth and solid, and more mature cheeses have a brown colour.
The cheese is white, taking on a straw colour as the aging progresses, compact or with sparsely distributed holes. The flavour is strong and pleasantly spicy. A mark bearing the capital letters of the Designation “PS DOP” and the manufacturer’s identification is placed in edible ink across all the sweet and mature Pecorino Sardo ready for clearance to guarantee the quality and origin of the product.
To further verify compliance, the wheels of cheese also show the manufacturer’s label with the brand Pecorino Sardo DOP radiating out from it, and a numbered sticker issued by the protection consortium on the external crown of the label with the brand.
The Local Area
Sardinia’s specificity lies above all in its special environmental and climatic conditions, and in the ancient agro-pastoral vocation strongly rooted in the area. Many natural features that disappeared from other parts of the peninsula were preserved in Sardinia: solitary coasts, mountains, forests, rare animals and endemic plants.
The typically Mediterranean climate is mild in winter and hot in summer. The climate is also particularly affected by the influence of the sea and the strong winds that regularly blow in the area during every season.Forests cover around 18% of the region; the woodland vegetation is especially characterised by the presence of holm oak and downy oak.
In the coastal zone and the central-eastern part there are many junipers and olive trees. Throughout the rest of the territory there are vast bushy expanses of mastic, cistus and strawberry trees, as well as many other species of wild flora typical of the island.
For centuries, sheep farming has been the main source of income for the majority of the island’s population, and together with the agro-pastoral sector, the sheep’s milk sector is still one of the leading industries in terms of number of employees and turnover of the socio-economic structure of the area.
Consorzio per la Tutela del Formaggio Pecorino Sardo DOP