The Tuscan cheeses: the best ones and areas of production
2 October 2018
Tuscany praises an important enogastronomic tradition and first-rate dairy products; the production process, which has been passed on for centuries, uses exclusively milk from local pastures and refined ageing techniques. The offer is really wide and satisfies everyone’s taste: pecorino is sublime, but there are also excellent niche cheeses that vary through different areas. In this brief guide, therefore, we present some flagships made in Tuscany.
The Tuscan pecorino has his roots in history, as Plinio the Old testifies in his Naturalis historia. Nowadays this cheese is included in the category of protected designation of origin products (DOP)
• 1.1 Raw milk pecorino
It was born on the mountains of Pistoia, where the tradition has always been the same. The cheese, made with raw milk, is a real rarity in the Tuscan landscape. The raw material, made by sheep in mountain pasture, is filtered and poured in a copper boiler; then it’s heated until 35-38 °C so as to facilitate the formation of the rennet.
We add a spoon of liquid rennet (animal or vegetable), we wait about 40 minutes and we proceed with the breaking of the preparation. There is, afterwards, the setting up of the shapes, the stewing and the salting. The single pieces are being aged on wood tables for more than 60 days. The production process ends with washing and brushing; this last step is essential to remove the grease that has settled on the surface of the cheese during the ageing.
The final result, pale yellow colored, is rounded and has pieces between 800 gr and 1,5 kg; the interior is beige, the consistency is soft and the dough is salted. We recommend to taste it with Tuscan bread, polenta, boiled potatoes, pears and necci (special fritters made with chestnut flour).
• 1.2 Pienza Pecorino
This cheese satisfies the taste of a lot of people: it appears that Lorenzo the Magnificent really loved it. It’s a product with cooked dough, made with raw whole milk from Sardinian sheep. Its distinctive flavor comes from particular plant species (absinthe, juniper, salsify and broom) that cover the pasturelands in the clayey area in Siena.
The shapes, with variable diameter and weight, are subjected to an ageing period of 90 days in oak wood barriques. The cheese, with soft or hard dough, has an intense flavor and can be tasted with spicy mustards and Tuscan bread.
The Tuscan Marzolino, one of the most popular cheeses, has its roots in the Etruscan age and in the old days you could always find it on the table of princes and popes. During the Renaissance, it had a lot of popularity: it was considered, together with Parmesan, one of the best Italian cheeses. Its name comes from the month of March because it seems that you can get better results if the manufacture occurs during spring months, but it actually never stops.
• 2.1 Marzolino of Chianti
It was born in the heart of Chianti and it’s produced with whole milk from Apennine sheep. The original production sector expects the use of cagliofiore (produced with the flower of a wild artichoke), but nowadays we usually use rennet from veal. Then, a week in a cellar for the maturation and a variable ageing from one to five months. During this phase the cheese is greased with olive oil and morchia (oil residue); this treatment explains why the crust is brown. The intense flavor tends to get spicy during the ageing process.
• 2.2 Marzolino of Lucardo
It’s produced in the area of Lucardo, Certaldo and San Gimignano. The bases, ovine milk based, weigh about 1kg and are oval-shaped. It can be tasted fresh or aged. In the first case the color is white, the dough is soft and there’s a light herb scent. On the other hand, the one which is 6 months aged is solid and there is a particular scent made by straw, hay and Mediterranean herbs.
Brusco was born in the province of Pistoia and more specifically in Cutigliano. The cow’s milk is heated at 68 °C and rests for about 40 minutes. Then it’s manually distributed in specific shapes, it drains and finally it’s salted. The ageing, on poplar axis, takes place in chilly and aerated places. At the end of the maturation we proceed with the brushing, but there isn’t any washing.
#4 Il Grande Vecchio di Montefollonico
Its homeland is the province of Siena where it’s produced following a particular procedure. The secret of its taste is in the breeding methods of the ovines that grow wild and are fed with herbaceous pasture and in the woods for 1 year.
The sheep’s milk, stored and refrigerated, is subjected to pasteurization and coagulation. The curd, after the breaking, is inserted in special molds; then there is the acidification, drainage in a warm environment, dry salting and ageing. This last lasts about 10 months and takes place in conditioned spaces on huge steel grates.
The crust needs to be processed with extra-virgin olive oil. The external surface is dark and irregular, while the interior is solid and bright yellow. The flavor is lightly spicy.