How To Make Cacio e Pepe: The Easiest Method for Perfect Results Every Time

updated Jun 18, 2020
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How to Make Cacio e Pepe

A step-by-step guide to making the easiest and very best cacio e pepe pasta.


Prep10 minutes

Cook10 minutes

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Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Amelia Rampe

For years, cacio e pepe defeated me. The seemingly simple Roman dish of pasta, Pecorino Romano cheese, and black pepper never came together correctly whenever I attempted to make it at home. I tried recipe after recipe, each claiming they held the secret to success, but instead of a creamy, peppery pasta, I’d end up with something lumpy, grainy, or dry.

So when I say that this step-by-step recipe is foolproof, I mean it. I’ve cooked my way through basically every cacio e pepe recipe out there, and that has led me to this easy-as-can-be version that works every time. Here’s everything you need to know.

First, What Is Cacio e Pepe?

Cacio e pepe hails from Rome and the surrounding region. In local dialect, cacio e pepe translates to “cheese and pepper,” and its ingredients are just that — cheese, black pepper, and pasta. But because the ingredients are so simple, the specifics of each really matter.

The cheese should be freshly-grated Pecorino Romano, a hard sheep’s milk cheese that also originates from the area and, while similar to Parmesan, is saltier and has more funk (in a good way). The black pepper should be freshly cracked and plentiful so you can taste its heat and fruitiness, but not so much that it’s overpowering. In terms of the pasta, dried spaghetti, bucatini, and tonnarelli — a square-shaped spaghetti that also goes by the name of spaghetti alla chitarra — are all traditional choices.

What cacio e pepe should not include is butter, cream, or olive oil. Some will argue Parmesan can be used in place of some or all of the Pecorino, but my personal preference is to use solely Pecorino.

Cheese Paste Is the Secret to Making Cacio e Pepe at Home

Making such a basic pasta seems like it should be easy, but I learned the hard way that there’s a lot that can go wrong. Some recipes will instruct you to grate the cheese directly into the hot pasta and toss; that will cause the cheese to melt into crevices or clump. Other recipes will tell you to dump the hot pasta into a bowlful of grated cheese; that will cause the cheese to get stuck to the bottom of the bowl (and what does end up on your pasta will be dry and grainy).

The solution is a cheese paste. A couple of years ago, I learned that Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen was having the same frustrations I was. She found success with a cheese and pepper paste that she then tossed with the pasta, and I found it to be the perfect solution as well. Our version is even easier, and results in smooth and creamy cacio e pepe every time.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Amelia Rampe

How to Make the Very Best Cacio e Pepe

  1. Make a cheese and pepper paste: Use a Microplane to finely grate the cheese into a snowy mound in a large bowl. Add fresh-cracked pepper and whisk the two together with ice water. Using cold water prevents a clumpy, separated sauce, since the cheese won’t start melting until it hits the hot pasta. What you’ll have in the bowl is a thick, mostly smooth paste that’s frosting-like in consistency.
  2. Save the pasta water: Cook the pasta to al dente and save a cupful of its starchy water to help marry the cheese paste and pasta together. You’ll want to work quickly while the pasta is piping hot so that it immediately melts the cheese paste, so don’t worry about getting every last bit of water off the pasta when you drain it. Plus, the excess water will actually help loosen the paste and transform it into a sauce.
  3. Toss with a fork: Use the same fork you used to whisk together the cheese paste to toss the pasta with the paste. I find a fork to be the easiest, most useful tool for vigorously stirring and tossing everything together, so there’s no need to reach for another utensil.
Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Amelia Rampe
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How to Make Cacio e Pepe

A step-by-step guide to making the easiest and very best cacio e pepe pasta.

Prep time 10 minutes

Cook time 10 minutes


Nutritional Info


  • 5 ounces

    Pecorino Romano cheese

  • 1 tablespoon

    coarsely ground black pepper, plus more for garnish

  • 1/3 cup

    ice water

  • 1 pound

    dried spaghetti, bucatini, or tonnarelli pasta



  1. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

  2. Finely grate the cheese. Using a microplane, finely grate 5 ounces Pecorino Romano cheese into a large bowl to get about 2 1/2 cups. Transfer 1/2 cup to a small bowl to use as garnish.

  3. Grind the black pepper and make a cheese paste. Coarsely grind enough black pepper to get 1 tablespoon and use a fork to mix it into the large bowl of cheese. Drizzle in 1/3 cup ice water and use the fork to whisk it into the cheese mixture, then press the mixture against the side of the bowl, as needed, to form a thick, mostly smooth and lump-free paste; set aside.

  4. Cook the pasta. Add 1 pound dried pasta to the boiling water and cook until al dente, about 10 minutes or according to package instructions.

  5. Toss the pasta with the cheese paste. Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water. Drain the pasta and working quickly, immediately add it to the large bowl of cheese paste and use the fork to vigorously stir and toss the pasta with the cheese paste, adding 1 tablespoon of the reserved pasta water at a time to loosen the paste until it evenly coats the pasta in a creamy sauce. (You’ll likely use only about 2 to 3 tablespoons of the pasta water total and not use all of it.)

  6. Serve with additional grated cheese and black pepper. Serve immediately, topping with the reserved grated Pecorino and a few coarse grinds of black pepper.

Recipe Notes

Storage: While cacio e pepe is best eaten immediately, leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

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