Cheeses and Dairy Products
Lazio is the undisputed leader of Roman-style pecorino cheese. This type of pecorino is produced in large wheels which are consequently divided into smaller pieces to be sold as either a table cheese or even for merely grating. Characterised by its slightly biting taste and sometimes minute eyeing, it is the most well-known of the pecorinos though certainly not the only type. In fact, the entire Lazio region confirms in its dairy history that there existed similar sheep-rearing traditions which date as far back as Latin times. Along with Roman-style pecorino there are several other types of pecorino, defined by very precise areas of production. It is, in fact, true that the only type of milk which is processed in Lazio for making cheeses, is sheep's milk. Although there is an area in lower Lazio, more specifically in the province of Frosinone, dedicated to bovine breeding. Here, in fact, there are a large quantity of buffaloes whose milk is used to make the well-known buffalo-milk mozzarella, which is protected under a denomination of origin area that extends down as far as Paestum.
ROMAN CACIOTTA CHEESE
Central Italy produces a number of different "caciotta" cheeses. In the area around Rome the caciotta is generally flat and round, weighs usually less than one kilogram (2 lbs 4 oz), and has a soft centre. It may be found almost everywhere and is eaten fresh or slightly aged. Though it belongs to the larger family of pecorino cheeses, some producers market a type of caciotta which combines sheep's milk with cow's milk or even is made from cow's milk alone. These are the renowned Subiaco caciotta cheeses, particularly prized are those from Serrone and from Cassino. The Roman caciotta, found on the menu of nearly all the restaurants of the capital city, has its strongholds in the surrounding communities of Lake Bracciano as well as the northern coastal towns of the Tyrrhenian sea which extend from Fiumicino to Civitavecchia.
As a rule, the making of caciotta must begin during the coldest months of the year: the whole milk is heated to a temperature of 35-36°C ( 95-97° F), at which point the producer adds saffron and the necessary curdling agent. The cheese is left for twenty-four hours in order to form in its mould, whereupon it is then immersed in brine. Salting in brine can take anywhere from ten days to several months, according to the size and shape of the cheese and the desired characteristics one wishes to obtain. While ten to fifteen days will suffice for a small round wheel, the larger, cylindrical caciotta needs a number of months in brine. The result in the former is a softer, milder-flavoured cheese, whereas the latter becomes a cheese with a sharper taste.
Caciotta cheese may be an integral part of a light main course or, better yet, even replace it. It is served in between meals as a snack and also used to further enhance pasta dishes. In a salad, it is shaved into thin slices and added on top to add extra flavour.
GOAT’S CHEESE AND MARZOLINA CHEESE
This is a typical product of Castel Madama, located in the Aniene Valley, of Campoli Appennino(FR), located Val di Comino, and its nearby municipalities (comuni), where for time immemorial goat breeding has continued to be one of the few resources of this otherwise poor economy. Considering that fresh goat’s cheese is unsalted as well as fat-free, it is therefore easily considered a dietary product. This white, cylindrical cheese weighs around 250 grams (9 oz) and has an average production of two hundred quintals (about 400 hundred weights) per year. Yet goat’s milk is the essential base ingredient of a very particular cheese product, called marzolina, typical to the lower part of the Lazio region. It is a light, aromatic cheese, low in fat, recognised by its whiteish-amber colour and its characteristic conical form. It is matured in a unique way, that of being in wide-necked glass demijohns after first having been drained on light reed mats arranged inside a ventilated room, left as cool as possible. Marzolina is a pleasant, easily digested cheese although it not always widely available, due to its modest production.
It originates in the Ciociaria region (Amaseno, Picinisco, Arpino, Falvaterra, Pico, Vallecorsa, Morolo) and in certain localities of the province of Latina (specifically Lenola and Campodimele).
SMOKED PECORINO CHEESE
This is a speciality of Guarcino and Vico nel Lazio, two municipalities in the Ciociaria area of Lazio whose ties to agriculture date back to ancient times. Made much like traditional pecorino, the sheep's milk is first heated and then enriched with a curdling agent. Unlike regular pecorino, however, smoking and ageing are then performed simultaneously for a duration of about six months with braziers built in-house. Smoked pecorino is distinguished by its slightly rounder shape, very opaque white colour and characteristic taste, which is both spicy and quite savory. A small portion of what is produced is then vacuum-packed for larger distribution.
CIOCIARO PECORINO CHEESE
The "ciociaro" shepherds , or those from the Ciociaria in lower Lazio, have always made cheese either for themselves or on order for the neighbouring families of the region who were not dedicated to sheep raising. As a result, a pecorino possessing its own particular characteristics came about over time. In comparison to traditional pecorino, maturation is shortened and may not last for longer than two months, making it a semi-aged cheese. Consequently, it has a lighter, more fragrant taste and is pale straw-yellow in colour. Its weight oscillates somewhere between two and three kilograms (four and a half and seven pounds).
AMATRICE PECORINO CHEESE
The producers of Amatrice and of Leonessa, areas in the extreme north of Lazio, use a light brine which, in turn, makes for a cheese which is less spicy and sour. The ageing of Amatrice pecorino can last from three to six months. The forms are, with regard to Roman pecorino, smaller and rarely weigh more than two kilograms (four and a half pounds).
ROMAN PECORINO CHEESE
The law that specifies the denomination of controlled origin for Roman pecorino also allows for its production in Sardinia. As such, Sardinians take advantage of this possibility and, therefore, a remarkable quota of this notable cheese, in fact, comes from the island.
The production period normally runs from November to June. An ancient technique calls for either lamb's or kid's rennet paste to be added at the opportune moment that whole sheep's milk has been heated. The curd is then cooked for fifteen minutes and poured into the moulds. Habitually the cheesemaker pricks it with a special type of cane to force the serum out. The cheese is then dry-salted and placed in a ventilated, cool environment to mature for at least eight months. To prevent excessive drying and cracking of the cheese during ageing, olive oil or something similar is rubbed on to the crust as a precaution. Finally, the moulds are dyed brown with special clays.
The identifying characteristics of Roman pecorino are tightly connected to its length of maturation, which normally concludes after eight months have passed. It is not difficult to distinguish mature pecorino from fresh, as the mature version is quite sharp and the fresh is very mild and fragrant. Slightly matured pecorino is soft and tender as opposed to the aged variation which is hard and often grainy. It comes in a cylindrical form which is flat on top and weighs anywhere from eight to twenty kilograms (eighteen to forty five pounds). The interior paste has a pale white colour and a compact appearance with more or less evident eyeing. Sometimes a fragrant, slightly greenish liquid seeps out from the holes.
Roman pecorino is consumed both as a table cheese as well as for grating, and complements such typical regional dishes as "pasta all'amatriciana" (pasta with a streaky bacon and tomato sauce), "minestra di broccoli" (broccoli soup), "rigatoni con la pajata" (short fluted pasta with sweetbread sauce), "pasta cacio e pepe" (pasta with cheese and ground pepper), and "spaghetti alla carbonara" (spaghetti pasta with streaky bacon and dressed with egg and cheese). It is also the protagonist of the traditional spring snack accompanying fava beans (broad beans) and wine from the Castelli area.
SABINE GOAT RICOTTA
The area around Rieti produces a ricotta cheese which is sweeter, whiter and creamier than the traditional one. This one is made with goat's milk.
Amongst all dairy products, ricotta lends itself to the most use in Italian cooking. The recipes that call for it are innumerable and it is an essential ingredient in a long list of desserts. Even so, ricotta can be used as a dessert on its own, simply topped with a sweet after-dinner liqueur or drizzled with melted chocolate. It also completes a number of appetisers, not to mention its use in many fried dishes.
Ricotta is a dairy product that can be found in many different regions. The characteristics may change according to the latitudes but Roman ricotta is amongst the most praised in all of Italy. In its own way it may be considered a prototype, traditionally made with sheep's milk, in recent times it has also been made with cow's milk, which, of course, modifies the taste and even the digestibility.
Roman ricotta is produced, like all the others, with the residual serum left from the processing of the cheese, which is then heated a second time (ricotta means cooked twice) over 70-75° C (158-167° F), at which point a mass of white coagulation floats to the surface. This is collected and transferred into appropriate basket-like containers, indispensable for allowing the product to drain. In the case of fresh ricotta, nothing else is necessary and the final product is ready. For salted ricotta, however, there is the one last step of slicing the fresh ricotta and covering it with a layer of salt. This same production extends all throughout Lazio and provides for a compact, white-coloured cheese usually formed in the shape of a cone.