Flying to Italy from SF for only four nights — this was the most jet-setting thing I have ever done. While it was exhausting, it was also amazing, finally watching some classic cheesemaking in action and visiting people whose cheese I have bought for decades. Sure I only got a total of twenty hours sleep in five days, but it was worth it.
You can see it in my eyes though:
After 18 hours of travel and an airport espresso* we were off to our first cheese factory (in Italian: “caseificio”). Buonatavola, makers of Sini Fulvi Pecorino Romano Genuino, the last Pecorino Romano still made in the region of Lazio and exported to the USA. Yes, you heard me mention this cheese in the Great Romano Kerfuffle of 2017. It’s because it is the best Romano available in the USA and has been for a very long time.
Pecorino Romano is a great cheese if used properly. Certainly Cacio e Pepe is the signature dish, but it goes well in almost any home pasta dishes if you adjust the recipe. Because Pecorino Romano is a saltier, sharper, earthier, and less sweet cheese than Parmigiano Reggiano is can’t be used interchangeably. The most important thing is to cut down on salt elsewhere and be prepared for a more assertive cheese. If you don’t wanna do that, that’s cool too. Despite paranoid ramblings of some food writers, no one is forcing you to.
But if you wanna talk about taste in relation to region, Pecorino Romano is crucial to Southern Italian food. Again, the trick is buying a good one. This is why I am at Caseificio Buonatavola, not in Sardinia.
The first striking thing here is the volume for a 100% sheep milk production. It’s incredible to an American. Lack of genetics and support are huge factors but these Lazio sheep are special even in Europe. We were told that they produce as much as three times more than some other milking breeds. Either way, this is a lot of sheep milk! This is the yield from one morning’s make and each of these wheels are about 60lbs when ready to be sold, about seven months down the line.
As with any hard aged cheese, the Pecorino Romano make is all about moisture expulsion and tiny curds. The Romano is notable for its extra dry-salting step in addition to brining. Sorry about the bad pic, but check this out between the cheese and the form.
I should mention right now that upon arriving at this caseificio, I realized I had brought my old, broken camera to Italy instead of the the one that actually works. All these pic are from my phone which is much more susceptible to humidity distortion. And the Fulvi plant is a humid space.
And underground, there is a lot of cheese.
Fulvi makes a few other cheeses but are probably best known for the Romano. The ricotta, not currently available in the US, was amazing. We ate one of these for lunch.
Anyway, this was my first morning in Italy. We never went to Rome proper. Instead, off to Modena to visit Parm producers and agers.
*People who know me may be surprised at this because I do not drink coffee at home. But when, literally, in Rome…. what are you gonna do? Plus, I needed some caffeine really bad.
I should note that this trip was made possible by Michele Buster at Forever Cheese and Brad Dube at Food Matters Again. Ethics require me to say that you should take everything written here with a grain of salt since they took me on the trip. Of course, I also carried these cheeses for decades without getting a trip to Italy so keep that in mind too.