Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Debbie in Italy, Part 3: Aged Pecorino

This is the third post from Debbie Driscoll documenting what she learned in Italy during her visit in Fall 2010. Debbie, owner of Debbie's Delicious Cheese, teaches home cheesemaking classes in Portland and beyond. You can find a listing of her upcoming classes at debbiesdeliciouscheese.com.

Pecorino Semi-Stagionato, Pecorino Stagionato, Pecorino Vecchio and Grating Pecorino

The only difference between these four cheeses is the aging period. Semi-stagionato (semi-aged) ages for 2-4 months. Stagionato ages for 4-6 months. Vecchio (old) ages for 6-12 months. Pecorino suitable for grating ages for 12 or more months.

Pecorino Marzolino Lucardo on the left and Pecorino Stagionato on the right

It was very eye opening to realize that in the US we typically only have access to pecorino that is aged long enough for grating! Podere Paugnano hardly had any of this variety - it definitely did not seem preferred and I don’t think they ever sold it. This could have had something to do with limited aging space, but it seemed more to do with their taste preferences.

Once again, the instructions are nearly identical to the Base Recipe: Pecorino Fresco Bianco. In this case, the target temperatures are slightly different, the curd is cut into smaller pieces, a greater amount of salt is applied (though for the same amount of time) and the temperature of the aging cave is slightly higher.

The longer the pecorino ages, the sharper the flavor. So the semi-stagionato is softer and mostly mild, while the stagionato and vecchio get progressively firmer, sharper and more flavorful.

The instructions are identical to the Base Recipe: Pecorino Fresco Bianco, but with slight changes in all of the target temperatures and a longer aging period.

1. Heat milk to 40-42C.
2. Add rennet and stir for 1 minute.
3. Let set for 20 minutes, or until clean break.
4. Cut curd into rice size pieces, then continue to agitate for 15 minutes, maintaining the curd at 40-42C. (The higher end of the temperature range results in a firmer cheese, which is typically preferred for stagionato.)
5. Pour into molds (no leader needed). (They typically used approximately 8-inch high, 8-inch diameter molds)
6. Use hands to press curd in molds and expel whey. As curds compress, add more curd and repress so that curd is level or nearly level with top of mold.
7. Maintain temperature of curd at 40-42C while allowing to drain freely for 45 minutes. The Porcus used a covered draining table that they filled with steam.
8. Flip cheese in the mold. (No need to apply pressure again.)
9. Return to 40-42C environment for 45 minutes.
10. Flip again.
11. Return to 40-42C environment for 20 minutes.
12. Keep cheese in molds and transfer to room temperature rack. Store at room temperature for 1 day.
13. After the day at room temperature, unmold, flip, apply a generous coating of salt to the surface of the cheese and return to mold. Let sit for 5 hours per kilogram of cheese. (For example, if you have a 1 kg cheese, let salt sit on cheese for 5 hours. If you have a 2 kg cheese, let salt sit on cheese for 10 hours.)
14. After the salt has absorbed for the appropriate amount of time, unmold and rinse salt from cheese.
15. Place the cheese in 12-16C environment for 10 days.
16. After 10 days at 12-16C, apply a thin coating of oil or tomato juice.
17. Return to the 12-16C environment for:
     Semi-stagionato: 2-4 months
     Stagionato: 4-6 months
     Vecchio: 6-12 months
     Grating cheese: 12+ months
18. Wash mold from cheese with water and pat dry before cutting/serving.

Pecorino Stagionato in the "aged cheese" aging room, kept between 12 and 16C

Pecorino Marzolino & Pecorino Marzolino Lucardo

Marzolino is identical to Stagionato, except:
  • it must be made with milk produced from March through July
  • it undergoes additional/firmer hand pressing when placed in the mold
  • the aging environment is slightly more humid. This is achieved by covering the cheese with a cloth for the first month of aging. Be sure to rotate the cheese so that it does not become lopsided or stick to the cloth.

Pecorino Marzolino Lucardo in the aging room

The only difference between Marzolino and Marzolino Lucardo is the pressing method. The Lucardo is pressed in a linen sack (it looks a little like a sock for a very large foot) and hand squeezed very firmly. The salt is applied while the cheese is still in the sack.

Since the late spring/early summer milk is the best milk (the sheep are grazing on the best grass at this time), this is considered one of the best cheeses. I found the flavor to be great.

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