Pecorino di PienzaSiena, Summer 2013
This past Monday, the 25th, was my 21st birthday which also happened to be the day that we went on a field trip to Pienza. This small town only about an hour away from Siena is famous for a few things including its Pecorino cheese and its architecture. Pope Pius II lived in this town, which was originally called Corsignano but later was changed to its current name after Pope Pius II decided to rebuild it. Located on a mountain overlooking a beautiful valley and Amiata Mountain, an extinct volcano, it is the perfect place to have a palace because of its beautiful views. The palace was built by Pope Pius II's family and is named the Ammannati Palace. Along with the palace, Pope Pius II began making changes to the town by transforming its Gothic architecture into a more contemporary Renaissance style, however, he did not finish so the town is left in limbo of the two styles. Our class visited the palace that day. It was a beautiful, well-preserved building and normally I would show you some pictures from the visit but no pictures were allowed inside the building. Instead, here is a view from the gardens so you can get a sense of how exceptional it would be to own such a property. Afterwards, we went on a walk around the town. There were gorgeous colorful flowers all over, which I couldn't help but take pictures of, especially when there were butterflies. When we got to the center of the town, we stopped in two specialty shops for cheese. Our professor gave us a sense of the types of things that are sold at these shops, such as Pecorino cheese, salami, prosciutto, honey, balsamic vinegar, and wine. The most important product, however, was the Pecorino cheese. This type of cheese is made from sheep's milk and is very common for Tuscany since many farms around the small Tuscan cities and towns including Pienza raise sheep. Wikipedia claims that the most popular type of Pecorino cheese, however, is Pecorino Romano which comes from the Italian island of Sardinia. Nonetheless, Pecorino di Pienza is found all over Tuscany--particularly since Tuscany aims to buy and sell local products--and it is very important in the Tuscan diet. Pecorino varies in flavor based on its original composition but also by how long it is aged--just like all other cheeses. It ranges from "fresco" (fresh) to "stagionato" (seasoned or aged). The older the cheese, the darker the outside appears, the stronger the flavor, and the harder the cheese. In the second shop, Laura and I decided to buy some cheese. As a lactose intolerant, I was particularly excited because cheese is something that I normally do not get to eat in the United States since there is a significant lack of both goat's and sheep's milk cheese. Therefore this was the perfect birthday present!! We tasted three of the various ages of cheese: Pecorino fresco (the youngest), Pecorino stagionato con foglie di Alloro e Cenere (the second oldest), and the oldest type of Pecorino which I unfortunately didn't get the name of (which I now regret!). Laura and I had decided on the second oldest due to its undeniable intense flavor and creaminess until we had the opportunity to try the oldest. The difference is difficult to describe because I am not a cheese expert, but it was as if the Pecorino stagionato had been intensified to an unbelievable level. As soon as we tasted it, we knew that's what we wanted. However, you had to buy this type of cheese in a whole wheel. So we did! I was hesitant at first, but it has turned out to be one of the best decisions since we've already eaten more than half and it's only Thursday! To go with the cheese, we got a few things. Firstly, we chose a wine. Our professor told us that the "right" way to pair flavors is to have similarly aged cheeses and wines. Therefore, if you have a young cheese than you can drink a young red wine. As the age increases in the cheese, the age of the wine should also increase. The amount of age in a cheese, however, is not directly comparable to the amount of age in a wine since a moderately aged cheese is aged for 6-8 months while a moderately aged wine is aged for at least a few years. Therefore, with the oldest Pecorino cheese, we decided to get a top-notch similarly aged red wine as well: a Brunello di Montalcino named "Casanova di Neri Tenuta Nuova" from 2004. It was an obvious choice since Laura is family friends with the people who make this wine and it was voted one of the best red wines in the world in 2008. If you want more information on this wine since I know very little about it (but will learn!), here is a website: http://www.wine-searcher.com/wine-24614-0001-casanova-di-neri-tenuta-nuova-brunello-di-montalcino-docg-italy. Additionally, we purchased two confettura's (jam-like things) to eat with the cheese. One was a sweeter flavor of green tomatoes (confettura di pomodori verdi) and the other was pepers (confettura di peperoncino) meant to give it a little spice--both made in Tuscany. As a pre-dinner snack, Laura and I indulged on our purchases. They were some of the most delicious things I have ever had together. It's hard to believe but everything here in Italy is outstanding due to its high quality and this snack took it to a new level. We spread little bits of the confettura's onto slices of the cheese and washed it down with a little wine. Last night, we discovered that this same cheese combination is good on toast-like European crackers and the cheese tastes delicious with honey. For Laura's birthday, we plan on buying another wheel of cheese to try another type of Pecorino. I can't wait! Until then, we'll have to finish this wheel!
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