Since 1996 Tuscan Pecorino Cheese has been one of the products to bear the title “DOP” which stands for “Denominazione di Origine Protetta (Protected Designation of Origin), protected and represented by the Protection Consortium (some 20 members) and its production is regulated by a body of rules. The achievement of this important title is synonymous with tradition, quality and typicalness, witness to the strong bond between this cheese and the area it is produced in and with the specific technology.
Some 5,060 tons of Tuscan Pecorino cheese is produced annually according to Assolatte estimate of 1997, and is third production among sheep cheeses after Roman and Sardinian Pecorino cheeses (28,366 and 12,000 tons respectively); Sicilian Pecorino and Sardinian Fiore come fourth and fifth (4,200 and 800 tons respectively).
Compared with the year before, the increase in production following increased consumer demand was 860 tons.From these figures it is clear how Tuscan Pecorino cheese has gradually carved out a large market share for itself.
Earliest records of pecorino cheese production in Tuscany dates back to Roman times.
The story goes that a high-quality cheese arrived in Rome from a city of Etruscan origin, Luni. Pliny the Elder remembered the unusual size of this round piece of cheese, called Lunense after its city of origin in the region of today’s Lunigiana.The most ancient references call Tuscan Pecorino cheese “marzolino cheese": the name derived from the period production began, the month of March.
In the Fifteenth Century the “Marzolino of Etruria” was celebrated along with “Parmesan” as the best cheese in Italy, in a text by Platina.In the Seventeenth century we find references to Pecorino toscano produced in areas around Siena and Florence and then, in particular the variety produced in Val d’Elsa and Val di Pesa. Towards the end of the Eighteenth Century in Francesco Mulinelli memoirs on the cheeses of Tuscany (Sopra i formaggi di Toscana) descriptions are given of the most delicious Pecorino cheeses produced in Tuscany.
Distinction is made in this text between fresh cheeses and aged cheeses and told the dairymaids had a true talent in their ability to produce them.The strict link between the tasty and perfumed pastures and the wholesome, delicacy of the cheeses was also underlined.In the Manuale del pecoraio (Shepherd’s manual) by clergyman in charge Ignazio Balenotti, in 1832, it is shown how even though there were famous local products typical to this district or that, the processing techniques were largely standardized throughout the region and consequently the final product, Tuscan Pecorino cheese, was then already a cheese produced throughout Tuscany.
This text also highlights the production of two types of cheese, the so-called strong variety with a sharp taste and the sweet variety: the former is obtained by coagulating or curdling the milk with rennet, and the latter with a particular rennet, obtained from the flower of the wild artichoke, called “presame”.From the middle of the nineteenth century, Tuscan Pecorino was a clearly defined cheese both in terms of the qualities of the finished product and with regards to the processing techniques ; from this period it is therefore possible to refer to the name ”Pecorino Toscano”, fresh and aged, to define the product that today is entitled to call itself ”Denominazione di Origine Protetta – DOP – “(Protected Designation of Origin – PDO -).
The number of sheep bred in Tuscany rose until 1918, then numbers fell off sharply leading also to a fall in sheep related products. In this period, the various regional dairy production facilities divided into small-scale traditional processes in each locality, decreased in number to the advantage of a growing Tuscan Pecorino cheese production.
At the beginning of the Thirties another crisis engulfed sheep breeding and led to a number of changes that in the end managed to radically transform the facilities producing Tuscan Pecorino cheese and the processes employed, in the Fifties: production by sharefarmers and shepherds diminished, the first dairies were formed, local production disappeared and even greater uniformity was achieved in the production of the Tuscan Pecorino cheese both fresh and aged. In the Fifties the Tuscan Agricultural Inspectorate of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests published a booklet called Il formaggio pecorino (Pecorino Cheese), the aim of which was to describe the standard production technique to follow to obtain fresh and aged pecorino cheese.
Over the years a slow evolution could be observed in the organisation of a rural way of life that accompanies the definition of what today is called ”Pecorino Toscano”.
As in all parts of humankind’s life, the evolution of science and technology have brought about large-scale modifications for Tuscan Pecorino cheese as well, however, it is still anchored in the traditional production of that Etruscan cheese sold in the streets of ancient Rome.