Last week we covered Pecorino Romano. Great for cooking, but for eating? Not so much. If you love pecorino on the table as much as in the dish, check out this week's feature. It's a little trickier to find, but Italian specialty stores should have it. And since it's the main feature of one of the most classic Roman pasta recipes around, you won't be sorry to have made an effort to seek it out.
Pecorino Cacio di Roma is a semi-soft, pasteurized cheese from Lazio, the Italian region home to Rome. (And since it's a pecorino, you automatically know it's made from sheep milk.) Made in a traditional fashion, using animal rennet as a coagulant, it's easier to find in Italy, where its presence in the home as an everyday table cheese is widespread, especially in the South.
The traditional vehicle for Cacio di Roma cheese is in the pasta dish Cacio e Pepe, that famous, most simple Roman meal that gets its flavor from two things: cheese (cacio), and copious amounts of cracked black pepper (pepe). When melted, this cheese goes crazy creamy, and nearly turns into a ready-made cream sauce, but without the bechamel. Try grating it as finely as possible before melting for best results.
Taste-wise, it's salty but balanced, quite unlike Pecorino Romano, its stingingly salty relative. Perhaps because Cacio di Roma is aged for only a few months does it retain a youthful, almost floral flavor profile: creamy and mild, sweet and only slightly gamey in that pleasantly sheepy kind of way. This is what's best about the cheese, its youth. Other young pecorinos tend to be flat in flavor, one-note; other pecorinos good for eating plain tend to be hard and crumbly, which is good if you're in the mood for something firm and a bit salty, but not if you're craving something soft and buttery.
Eating it plain we most definitely recommend, and there's bang to that buck, too. With a super long finish and a pretty complex range of flavors, it'll keep you talking... and eating, especially with a glass of full bodied white in your hand. Or if you prefer a regional pairing, go with a juicy, Southern Italian red.
Find it: You can find Cacio di Roma for $13.80/lb at Mario Batali's and Joe Bastianich's incredibly stocked Italian marketplace, new Italian shop Eataly.
Nora Singley is an avid lover of cheese, and for some time she was a cheesemonger and the Director of Education at Murray's Cheese Shop in New York City, where she continues to teach cheese classes for the public. She is currently an assistant chef on The Martha Stewart Show.
Related: Cheese: On Melting
(Image: Nora Singley)