PECORINO (SHEEP'S) CHEESE
Among the typical products to be encountered in the Val d'Orcia, pecorino cheese is undoubtedly the one that can boast the most ancient origins. We can find a trace of it during the Etruscan era, in the writings of Pliny, down to Pope Pius II at the end of the 15th century, to then find it again in the Saints of the 18th century and in the Verdiani-Bandi of the beginning of the 20th century.
The territorial diffusion is concentrated in the Sienese crete, from Asciano as far as Radicofani, and involves some ten Communes (even if the most well-known is unquestionably Pienza Pecorino). A one-thousand year history and a precise localisation have made the traditional production come down to our day, also thanks to the stimulus received – starting in the 1960s from the immigration of Sardinians to Tuscany.
The particular aroma of the Val d’Orcia pecorino is closely connected to the conformation of the land: dry crete in which aroatic herbs with an intense fragrance grow. Among the most well-known of these we can mention (meadow) salsify, ascensium, thyme and garden (summer) savory.
Pienza pecorino cheese, produced with fresh-from-the-sheep milk, is obtained through coagulation due to the addition of rennet – during slow heating. The curd is then broken and freed of the excess whey. The paste obtained is put into cylindrical moulds measuring about 20 cm in diameter.
It is subsequently salted and set aside to season.
Pecorino cheese can be eaten fresh (20-30 days after its preparation).
In this case, it appears white, soft and very delicate; or else semi-fresh or seasoned. For the seasoning, the rind is treated with various products: tomato for semi-seasoned red, or olive oil (at times even ashes) for the forms that arrive at even 7-8 months of conservation.
In these cases, thanks also to the action of the walnut leaves on which they rest, the cheeses solidify and assume a straw-yellow colouring and an intense flavour.
The local production is guarantied by various cheese factories, and the round forms of pecorino are lined up in orderly rows on the shelves of the many delicatessen-type shops.
At Pienza on the first Sunday of September, there is the Cheese Festival. Here, at the sales counters of the numerous shopkeepers, it is possible to savour all the different types of pecorino.
Spindle ball is played in Piazza Pio II: this is a traditional team tournament in which a seasoned cheese form is made to roll towards a spindle in the centre of the square. One upon a time, it used to be played in the large kitchens of the estates during the long winter evenings.