The Sardinian pecorino, the result of an ancient culture and the most modern knowledge and technologies, it is a famous and much loved product. And the cheesemakers of the region are considered alchemists of taste. Its origins date back to late 1700s. Produced with whole sheep’s milk from insular breed sheep, it can be sweet or ripe, depends on the seasoning: it is also excellent grated. As a self-sufficient meal, or as a dessert. Its rind is hard and smooth, and the color changes from straw to brown.
The paste is compact, hard or semi-hard and sometimes grainy. Since 1996, 26 dairy companies have formed the Consortium for the protection of Sardinian pecorino PDO, in Italy and in the world: the unfortunate phenomenon ofitalian sounding did not spare this niche.
In Sardinia, where one and a half million people live, about three million sheep. Items that ensure 70% of the total sheep’s milk produced in Italy. Much of this, ironically, more than half, is then processed to become pecorino romano. And its selling price is directly proportional to the earnings of the basic breeders. Hence the well-known protests of Sardinian shepherds, when it dropped to sixty cents per liter. Also for this Slow Food has decided to accentuate its activity on the Italian island from the Caribbean sea, focusing on and safeguarding excellent craftsmanship, respectful of the environment and the territory.
WHICH TO CHOOSE: THE NEW SLOW FOOD PRESIDIA
And here three new Slow Food presidia: the pecorino from the upper Baronia, the Ittiri cutter and theaxridda of Escalaplano.
“At the age of 35, a dozen years ago, I quit my job and left my job as a prison officer. I felt that something was missing in my life, so I asked my father, who has always worked as a shepherd and produced cheese, for a hand and I learned too »says Gianni Mele, from Lodè, in Nuorese. Today does the pecorino, that of the high Barony, from the name of an area of the natural park of the Oasis of Tepilora: a cylindrical raw milk cheese, with a diameter of 25-40 cm and a weight between 3 and 10 kilos. Gianni produces two types: one matured for more than six months and one semi-matured. «Our fathers did this job with passion: each one produced his own cheese, learning from grandparents and great-grandparents who passed on the secrets of the flavor of each form. I studied, and I tried to understand why and how the cheese changes every time. I discovered that it is made up of many pieces: from grazing to the tools used, from the brine to the way it is aged “.
A hundred kilometers further west, between Sassari and Alghero, there is Pushing, a town of just under ten thousand inhabitants. Here, instead, a fresh sheep cheese: “An anomaly – explains the producer Rosa Canu – because the sheep’s cheese par excellence is the seasoned one”. The reasons are written in history: the high temperatures of the summer months tended to make the cheese swell, which was therefore wrapped in cotton cloths and pressed. Twenty days and it arrived on the table, ready for consumption. It has a very soft consistency, the flavor is more delicate than what one is used to from a Sardinian pecorino, with a sour tip. There passion for the cutter his mother passed it on to him. «About forty years ago my father began to work the milk himself, giving up on assigning it to the large industrial dairies in the area. And we still follow traditional techniques ».
Grazing in a semi-wild state, zero feed and one processing Sui generis, with the forms that are put to season covered by one clay layer. These are the asset dell’axridda of Escalaplano, a pecorino whose gestation is linked, even here, to the local climatic conditions. Thanks to the clayey coating, its conservation can last up to three years. «I have been producing and selling for three years. We breed organically and naturally, on average we have two sheep per hectare – says the producer Rino Farci -. This cheese was disappearing from my country. Pastoralism is experiencing a decade-long crisis: many shepherds are at the mercy of some industrial groups which, instead of enhancing sheep’s milk, exploit their work by paying very low prices. Moreover, they pasteurize the milk, but in this way the pecorino is homologated, the peculiarities of the territories are eradicated ». Dangers that Slow Food avert and try to send back to the sender, thanks to these new principals.