10 reasons why you must try Pecorini di Pienza in Tuscany

Pecorini di Pienza is not only known to lovers of Tuscany but is appreciated all over the world. But once you’ve had it in Tuscany and, especially, on the farms around the tiny town of Pienza, I guarantee it will become a household favorite!

What makes this cheese unique? Here are the top 10 reasons why you must try Pienza’s homemade pecorino.

The tradition of cheese-making in Italy

It was the clever shepherds of Mesopotamia who invented cheese, but Italy has a long tradition of making and serving cheeses!

The greatest development of the cheese-making technique occurred in the Middle Ages when monks began adding cheese production to their commercial activities.

Photo of the Botega del Naturista Cheese shop in Pienza selling Pecorini di Pienza, in Pienza, Tuscany
Cheese shop in Pienza selling Pecorini di Pienza, Tuscany

Thanks to many diverse regional specialties, cheese-making became a typical Italian production, contending for supremacy with neighboring France.

  • Cheese is for Italy and Italians a reason for gathering, for communion.
  • Cheese lovers are linked through this product and a thriving gastronomic culture to local environments, and sometimes even micro-environments and micro-climates.
  • As Italians will readily tell you, the most authentic, artisanal production is the one that still marks the pinnacle of cheese consumption.

As the technology evolved, milk processing became increasingly mechanical. In the Val d’Orcia where Pecorino di Pienza is produced, however, traditional, manual practices are kept alive.

A protagonist in home kitchens, cheese in Italy is nevertheless also the star of many dishes on a typical restaurant menu.

Whether it is raw cheeses like taleggio or fontina or cooked cheeses like pecorino, cheese is the king of Italian cuisine.

Where to Stay in Pienza

Relais Il Chiostro Di Pienza – wildly popular 4-star hotel in a converted 15th-century convent only 100m from the center of Pienza – great pool, views, and breakfast terrace.

Piccolo Hotel La Valle – this lovely spot in the center of Pienza has a rooftop terrace/garden with incredible views over the Val D’Orcia where breakfast is served. It also has a bar and the rooms have wrought-iron beds.

Hotel Corsignano – a 4-star gourmet experience with elegant and modern suites, a bar, a restaurant, jacuzzis, and an airport shuttle.

Why Pecorino is a prized cheese loved by all

Pienza’s pecorino cheese is unique because of the particular mix of various factors. The soil where the cattle graze is heavy with clay, something you can’t help but notice when looking out at Tuscan landscapes.

Photo of The stunning Val d'Orcia countryside surrounding Pienza, Tuscany including a horse grazing among the olive terraces
The stunning Val d’Orcia countryside surrounding Pienza, Tuscany

This soil allows the growth of the particular vegetation on which the sheep feed in turn giving a particular taste to the milk. This unique characteristic makes the product inimitable.

It is protected from fake products thanks partly to the strict discipline the Italian government has established for its production.

Pienza milk is just as important today as in the past, when Lorenzo the Magnificent, Lord of Florence, used to consume it directly on the spot, making a sort of pilgrimage to the hilltown every year.

And even then the resulting Pecorino was paired with local wine.

Fields and olive groves among the green hills leading to the town of Pienza on the hill in Tuscany, Italy
Pienza town and countryside, Tuscany

There is another characteristic that makes this pecorino unique and that is the breed of sheep from which the milk is obtained.

The animals are of Sardinian origin, because of an earlier migration of farmers from Sardinia to Tuscany, who brought their sheep with them.

(They were encouraged to the Val d’Orcia because the Italian government was alarmed at the depopulation of the region by young people moving to the cities.)

In the Val d’Orcia, they found the ideal soil and climate to establish their farms, and they also passed on their tradition to locals who, even today, make this cheese in the way they were taught by the Sardinian farmers.

How Pecorino di Pienza is produced

Since Pienza pecorino has been on the pages of the New York Times, it has seen its global fame grow by leaps and bounds.

Photo of a large slab of Pecorini di Pienza on a napkin on a restaurant table, Italy
Pecorini di Pienza

With it has also grown a curiosity about the taste textures, flavors, history, and production techniques of this cheese, and here is a brief summary of how you go about creating it:

Pecorino is a hard cheese made by processing sheep’s milk with rennet, salt, and milk enzymes.

  • The milk from Sardinian-bred sheep is pasteurized.
  • Then, with the addition of calf rennet and milk enzymes, the curd is formed from the coagulation of the milk.
  • At this point, the curd is broken with a special tool and poured into the molds to give it its characteristic shape.
  • The molds are subjected to acidification and excess moisture is forced out.
  • It’s now time for salting, which is done dry.
  • Finally, the cheese is stored for aging.

Types of pecorino

Depending on the timing of this last stage, different types of Pecorino are created. If the maturation period is less than 30 days, it’s called fresh pecorino.

  • Rossellino: has a red rind, as it contains tomato. Due to the high acidity of the tomato, this rind has a protective function, limiting the formation of mold on and inside the product. This type remains soft. The name comes from the world of architecture – Rossellino was the architect who in the second half of the 15th century renovated the entire village of Corsignano, known today as Pienza.
  • Vecchio Pienza all’olio: in this case, it is protected externally with olive oil and matured for a minimum of 90 days. Compared to the previous one, it turns out to be tastier, but still retains a soft paste.
  • Pecorino di Pienza in the cave: with a stronger and more intense flavor thanks to the aging in “tuff caves.” This material allows a constant temperature and humidity to be maintained, making the aging process perfect.
  • Pecorino canestrato: larger pieces and seasoning that come to be aged for more than 18 months. In this case, the term Riserva should be appended. (Mold on the outside of the cheese is not something to worry about, it means it’s not been treated to chemicals that kill off the mold. You can wipe the mold off the cheese if you prefer.)
  • Pecorino in barriques: is aged for a minimum of 90 days in oak barriques. The aroma and flavor are intense with hints of pomace.
  • Pecorino paglia e fieno: as the name implies, this cheese is aged on a bed of straw and hay. Very important that the barn of origin is certified so that its flavor is not so strong as to alter that of the cheese.

What are the 7 major qualities of this cheese?

This cheese is unique and appreciated all over the world for many reasons. Here are a few that will make people want to take a trip to the province of Siena.

Photo of wheels of Pecorini di Pienza stacked in rows for sale in shop in Italy
Pecorini di Pienza for sale in shop in Italy

1. It has a unique flavor. Sheep milk has a stronger taste than cow milk but retains its delicacy. The final texture of the cheese also changes and remains creamier. In addition, this milk also lends itself well to long aging.

2. Again to praise the gifts of this raw material, sheep’s milk turns out to be much more digestible than cow’s one.

This makes pecorino consumable even by many lactose intolerant people. The milk content is reduced further as aging increases.

3. The traditional methods of making Pecorino di Pienza has created over time a taxonomy of this particular cheese. There are 7 grades of texture, with 1 being the softest and mildest, and 7 being the sharpest and hardest.

In Pienza and the surrounding towns, tasting plates of the 7 grades are set out as an appetizer before a pasta main course.

4. It is rich in numerous nutrients and has a higher amount of protein than other cheeses. Pecorini is rich in vitamin D. The Vitamin D in pecorino cheeses is immediately available and assimilable.

Calcium is also present, with sheep milk containing higher amounts than the equivalent volume from cows.

5. The taste and texture of this world-famous cheese guarantee a fantastic experience for the palate. This is an opportunity when you’re in Tuscany to experience an important part of the Italian gastronomic tradition.

6. It is a versatile cheese that, depending on its seasoning, can be paired with any traditional Tuscan dish.

The semi-matured ones are sweet and creamy, while the older ones are more flavorful and harder – they make perfect accompaniments to different kinds of Tuscan dishes but of course, they’re also perfect when eaten on their own!

7. The Cheese Fair in Pienza! Every year, during the first weekend of September, this iconic product is celebrated with a dive into the history and origins of this iconic Tuscan cheese.

The surrounding areas of this place are also worth a visit, thanks to the mild climate this season. A chance to try local dishes, buy handicraft articles and immerse yourself in local traditions.

The best pairings of Pecorino with food and wine

Cacio di Pienza alone is a good reason to visit this area. Having arrived here, it is possible to combine the taste of this sheep-derived product with other Tuscan delicacies.

The wonderful world of Italian gastronomy offers many ideas for pairing cheeses with other dishes, but above all, it leaves many doors open for pairing with wine.

Photo of a white bowl containing a serving of Cacio e Pepe pasta, Italy
Cacio e Pepe pasta

There are many wines from Tuscany known throughout the world. In particular, Brunello di Montalcino stands out in this area.

This is a great wine to pair with pecorino, as is Morellino di Scansano, which is ideal for more old versions of the cheese. Whites such as Vernaccia di San Giminiano (which I love) and Bianco di Pitigliano for the less mature ones.

A slice of soft cheese is best on a bruschetta of Tuscan bread and fresh seasonal vegetables, so as not to overpower its flavors with other ingredients.

On a restaurant menu, there will never be a shortage of the absolutely divine cacio e pepe pasta, prepared with the most seasoned cheeses, and grated in a satisfyingly large quantity on the plate.

All the buzz this cheese has created has also led to the emergence of new culinary pairings. The flavors of the cheese are treated with respect by not altering its qualities.

It is consumed simply on a cheese platter as a way to avoid the risk of covering its distinguishing characteristics.

Photo of Local Tuscan wines (including Vernaccia di Sa Gimignano) for sale on a stand outside a shop in Pienza, Tuscany
Local Tuscan wines (including Vernaccia di Sa Gimignano) for sale in Pienza, Tuscany

Serving a board of local cured meats such as finocchiona, fruit and mustard greens with pecorino can definitely be one of the best meals to eat in Tuscany.

This product lends itself very well to making fondues to accompany first or main courses.

It is also excellent as an end to a meal, to be eaten instead of dessert, perhaps accompanied by local jams and marmalades, or artisanal honey.

This cheese also lends itself well to giving salads an extra touch of flavor when added as small cubes.

Where to find and eat it

There are many businesses locally selling this cheese.

Between the cheese factories, small country stores, and local restaurants, a quality commercial system dedicated to this cheese sold has been created. here are the best places to seek out:

  • Podere il Casale: the history of this cheese was also made by this producer. Today it presents itself as an organic farm where you can participate in a cooking class and where you can try the sheep cheese paired with local wine.
  • Caseificio Cugusi: historical reality of the area. A family coming directly from Sardinia has found its own world in the country. The family character of the enterprise makes all the cheese with unique and homemade flavors. At the award-winning company, you can buy products in the store and rent picnic baskets with wine and craft beer in the wonderful landscape.
  • Enoteca Marusco and Maria: a store where you can find the best products from the area. Local cheeses are selected here and also sold to the public through the online site. The tastings were born to give people the chance to try local specialties, paying attention to quality rather than quantity. A service created for the curious and the gourmet. It is located in the center of the country.
  • La Vecchia Posta: an ideal restaurant for discovering regional specialties. An old relais dating back to 1520, which today offers traditional cuisine. Located in the Tuscan countryside, it offers guests a window into the landscape and tranquility of the area. Don’t miss the pici, the local pasta served with a cacio e pepe sauce, and the charcuterie and cheese board.
  • The Pecorino Tavern: a historic store where the Pasquetti family has been selling local products since the early postwar period. Located in the town’s historic center, you can sample a wide selection of cheeses from the area’s best dairies.

What to do in Pienza besides eating Pecorino

The Val d’Orcia has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2004. Pienza is located in the heart of this valley and is one of the best-preserved medieval towns in the region.

This idyllic countryside is about an hour from Siena and also an hour from Arezzo.

Photo of clock tower and major buildings on the main square of Pienza village, Tuscany, Italy
Pienza Village, Tuscany

Being situated on a tall hill, enchanting views of the surrounding countryside abound. The travertine stone that was used to construct the town’s buildings gives a unique coloring to the small village.

The Cathedral and the Pieve di Corsignano are particularly impressive.

There is no shortage of museums and historic buildings such as Palazzo Piccolomini, which has a majestic roof garden with breathtaking views.

Finally, don’t miss the September event with the Palio del Cacio Fuso, an ancient folkloric game held during the central festival dedicated to the cheese of the same name.

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