Sicilian Cheeses

23 10 2012

Ricotta Salata is an aged, salted Ricotta (cottage cheese whose Italian name literally means “re-cooked”) made from sheep’s milk, produced in the Sicilian heartland. Usually only the rind is actually salted heavily, leaving the core mild and quite sweet for an “aged” cheese.

Pecorino, as its name implies, is made from sheep’s milk (“pecora” meaning sheep). It is true that Sicily’s sheep population is ever diminishing, but in Italian regions, only Sardinia presently raises more sheep than Sicily. Like Tuma, Pecorino is sometimes flavored with peppercorns or other spices. Made throughout Sicily, where it may be considered the most widely produced aged cheese product, it is a favorite for grating over pasta. Its taste, though sharp, is often less pungent and dry than that of Caciocavallo, despite a distinctive flavor and texture.

Like Pecorino, Tuma is sometimes flavored with peppercorns or other spices. Unlike Pecorino, it does not age well and is best served with ham, wines and fruits as a table cheese. It has a sweet taste not unlike that of Provola, with an equally rubbery texture.

Caciocavallo is made from cow’s milk, though its cryptic name literally means “horse cheese” –the Sicilian word “cacio” sharing the same root as casein while “cavallo” means horse. It takes at least eight months to age Caciocavallo properly, achieving a sharper flavor in about two years. Caciocavallo is a good complement to stronger wines, and widely used for grating over pasta. Indeed, it is a favorite of Sicilian chefs for use with pasta. It’s usually shaped as a large wheel. “Caciovacchino” was a similar product made in times past.

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