As the goodness of this typically Tuscan cheese, pecorino, is conquering gourmands worldwide, here's a step by step recipe for making it at home.
Ideally, we start with whole-fat sheep's milk, which many supermarkets and specialty stores carry. Strain the milk to eliminate any residue and then heat it to 37°C. Add the rennet (which is sold in many pharmacies): just a teaspoon should be enough for 5 liters of milk. Remove the milk from the heat and stir with a wooden spoon, then let rest for at least 45 minutes, until it coagulates. At this point, use a whisk to “break” the rennet, moving the whisk first from right to left, then left to right until it's broken into small pieces. Buttermilk is made and it curdles.
Once we've drained the cheese in a colander, squeeze it again to remove as much whey as possible, and then sprinkle with coarse salt, about a handful. Place it into a bowl so the cheese can eliminate more whey over the followings days, and remember to stir it daily. Drain the excess whey that gets release into the bowl, and remove it after a week.
Begin the aging process in a dark, dry place (an attic would be ideal), wrapping it in paper towels, and changing them when they get damp. After three weeks, you'll have your fresh pecorino. If you prefer it aged, keep going with the conservation process. If you want to have a bit of fun with this part, you can choose different ways to aromatise your own cheese.
Obviously, the first ingredient is a cool place to conserve it, like a cellar. Traditional ways of aromatizing while aging cheese - like in wine, hay or ash - can be rather complicated, while it’s easy to get a chestnut or vine leaf to wrap the cheese in and let age. The ideal cellar has a temperature of around 10°C and about 70% humidity. Easier to buy the cheese and let it age by adding olive oil from time to time with ground pepper or rosemary. Using a brush, cover both sides with the oil and let it rest on a wooden shelf.
Saffron fans can dilute some threads in a bit of water and brush the cheese once a week, or else use sweet paprika. You can age the cheese for a month or up to a year.
Have you been given an entire pecorino? You can keep it in an ideal state - thereby always having a delicious appetizer on hand - by cubing it, putting it in a glass jar and covering with extra-virgin olive oil. You can aromatize it by adding peppercorns, slices of garlic, chili pepper or herbs like bay leaves, thyme, marjoram or oregano - a wonderful combination is garlic and fennel seeds. But let your imagination run wild. Keep the jar closed for a couple of weeks before eating it, and then every time you want a bit of Tuscany at your table, remember to pull out your personalized stash of pecorino in oil.