In Mugello there is one very big producer of Toscano DOP (certified) pecorino cheese, but there are also numerous smaller producers that abide by all the rules of traditional pecorino making.
Toscano DOP pecorino cheese
Tuscan Pecorino DOP cheese has a “soft” or “semi-soft” texture and is made with 100% whole sheep’s milk. The finished cheese is disc-shaped. The diameter of the disc varies from 15 to 22 cm; the sides are slightly convex and 7 to 11 cm high; and the cheese weighs from 1 to 3.5 kilos. The crust is variable shades of yellow, while the cheese itself is yellowy white with a mild flavour and a taste of spice. Pecorino Toscano DOP comes with the DOP seal branded on the crust and is therefore easily recognizable. It is not packaged because the inedible crust itself offers the product protection, and the seal gives the product its name.
The product’s traditional quality is linked to the characteristics of the milk it is made from and, therefore, to the territory.
All through Tuscany the rules of cheese making are bound to certain age-old traditions. Regulations have been set to guarantee that this cheese making process is preserved for future generations. Tuscan Pecorino DOP can be eaten alone or grated, depending on how hard it is.
Where and how it is produced
Select milk enzymes from the same territory are added to the whole sheep’s milk, and, later on, also calf’s rennet. To make “semi-hard” cheese, the paste is mixed until the curds are the size of corn kernels, or to make “soft” cheese, the size of hazel nuts.
The next step is pressing and salting, which is followed by a variable period of maturation, which depends on the type of cheese and runs from a minimum of 20 days, for “soft” cheeses, to 4 months for “semi-hard” ones. This cheese is matured in temperature and humidity controlled rooms. Once the cheese has matured, the seal is applied. For soft cheeses the seal is applied with ink, and for semi-hard cheeses it is branded.
The Coop. Il Forteto, which can be found in Vicchio, in Mugello, is one of the most important producers of Pecorino Toscano.
The Coop. is associated with the CONSORZIO PER LA TUTELA DEL PECORINO TOSCANO (Caseificio n. 20), which exercises strict and constant control over the production of this typical DOP cheese. The activities of the cheese factory and the Consorzio are certified and come under the ruling of an external organization in accordance with UNI CEI EN 45011 regulations.
Some smaller farms in Mugello, which are dedicated to sheep rearing, also produce excellent pecorino cheese. The production process is quite similar to the one used for making Pecorino Toscano DOP, and the quality is often very high due, at times, to the organic line of production.