Pecorino is the name given to Italian cheeses made from sheep’s milk (pecora is the Italian name for sheep). The name after pecorino indicates where the cheese is from, or the style in which it is made. Pecorino cheese can be young, sweet and mild in flavour, aged, dry, salty and sharp, or nutty-tasting or crumbly in texture, or a combination of any of these things. The milk is fattier than goat’s and cow’s milk, which gives them a richness and long lasting flavour. Very young cheeses, at just a few months old, are milky and sweet, and delicious used as a fresh soft cheese. Some pecorino cheese are flavoured with peppercorns (my favourite), juniper berries or black truffles, or wrapped in leaves from walnut trees.
Pecorino Romano is the most well known, but not necessarily the greatest. It can be used as a table cheese when young, and is fruity and mildly salty, but as it ages it becomes sharp and piquant, and is best grated over pasta dishes where a robust flavour is called for, or added to stuffings for extra flavour. A jot of it added to pesto makes all the difference.
In Italy, pecorino is generally cheaper than parmesan (that’s not the case in New Zealand), and is a good substitute in cooked dishes where you want to inject a savoury seasoning.