Pecorino Toscano DOP
The concept of appellations derives from the wine world, where it serves to guarantee the quality of what's in the bottle: A wine with DOC or DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata or Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita, respectively) on the label must be made in a specific area, following specific procedures, and this keeps producers of rank plonk or those from outside a particular wine-producing region from calling their wine something that sells, for example Chianti or Brunello. Cheap imitators are not limited to wine, however: Not too long ago there was a huge dustup that resulted in several arrests for fraud when the makers of Lardo di Colonnata, a renowned brine-cured lard made in a town overlooking Carrara's quarries, discovered that pork butchers from throughout the Garfagnana area (considerably further inland, with a very different climate) were curing lard, slapping the word Colonnata on it, and sending it off to the supermarkets.
The Colonnata producers were able to get the fraud charges leveled on their competitors because their Lardo has DOP status, i.e. Denominazione di Origine Protetta, which means that it can only be made in a specific area following a specific, usually traditional procedure. Those from Garfagnana are outside the production area and therefore cannot use the word Colonnata on their labels, while the production rules would rule out an industrialist's setting up a plant in Colonnata to make it in large quantities using modern techniques.
Lots of other foods enjoy DOP protection; some are specialties made in limited areas like the above Lard. Others are world renowned, for example Parmigiano Reggiano, whose producers recently won protection for their name in translation, and were therefore able to block a German consortium that was making an imitation and marketing it as Parmesan.
Tuscany's most extensive DOP product is probably Pecorino Toscano, a sheeps' milk cheese that is considerably milder than pecorino Romano, and in many ways resembles Sardinian pecorino -- this isn't as much of a surprise as one might think because a great many Sardinian shepherds migrated to Tuscany during the 60s and 70s. Pecorino Toscano is made throughout Tuscany, through production is concentrated in the craggy hills of the Maremma, the wild area that extends from Siena on down to the coast.
Pecorino is made by collecting the milk from the sheep, heating it to a temperature of between 35 and 38 C (70-76 F) and curdling it with rennet for about 20 minutes; the curds are then turned out into a trough, scooped into molds, and pressed to drive out the serum, which in turn becomes ricotta. The pressed, very fresh, soft cheeses are in some cases steamed (this helps drive out the serum), and in others not, but they are always salted or soaked in brine, with the forms getting 4-6 hours salting per pound. After they have been salted, they're aged in a cool dark place, for a minimum of 20 days if they are to be sold fresh, or for at least 4 months if they are to be sold aged, i.e. stagionato.
Fresh pecorino Toscano is quite mild, and rather creamy, though it does have some nutty oak leaf overtones that keep it from being insipid. It's tasty in a platter of cheeses, is nice grilled, and also melts some, which makes it a nice ingredient to add to fillings. Because of its softness it doesn't grate well.
With age Pecorino Toscano becomes firmer and sharper, though it never approaches the sharpness or the saltiness of pecorino Romano. Aged Pecorino Toscano can be grated, but it also works quite nicely in thin crumbly slices over foods, and in this respect is similar to Parmigiano, though it's a little creamier and still has distinctive walnutty bitter overtones that balance its sweetness and give added complexity to the flavor of the cheese. The finest use for a good slice of aged pecorino, however, is at the end of a meal, perhaps with a dab of partially crystallized honey, or perhaps with a perfectly ripe pear. Indeed, there's an old saying, Non far sapere al contadino quant'è buona la pera col pecorino -- don't let the farmer discover how tasty pears and cheese are.
The guy might finish them off. Don't have pears handy, and aren't a farmer? The Pecorino Toscano DOP council has put together a pamphlet with a number of pretty pictures and some tasty looking recipes.
Spiedini Di Pecorino Toscano
Simple cocktail food, which will also work nicely at the beginning of a meal.
Scaloppine al Pecorino Toscano
Veal scallops with a tasty, cheesy topping.
Rollatine di Tacchino con Pecorino Toscano e
Turkey rollups with a chessy spinach filling.
Torta di Mele o Pere al Pecorino
An unusual, cheesy apple (or pear) pie.
Last thing, The
Consorzio per la Tutela di Formaggio Pecorino Toscano's address:
Via Cairoli 10
58100 Grosseto, Italy
Tel. +39 0564 20038
About Pecorino Romano
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