Pecorino – from Cheese to Wine

Pecorino the cheese
If you are a bit familiar with Italian cheese, hearing someone say Pecorino will immediately make you think of goat cheese. And yes, that’s correct. Pecorino is an Italian DOP hard and a bit salty cheese made from goat milk. Literally translated the name means “small sheep”. The name is derived from the Italian “Pecora” (Sheep), and the diminutive suffix “-ino” (creating the meaning “small”).

There are at least six different types of Pecorino cheese, the most common one being Pecorino Romano. Thanks to its storage capacity, it once was staple food for the Roman legions – which gives you an idea of how old the tradition of making this cheese actually is.

Pecorino Sardo (to the right)

Furthermore, you have the Pecorino Sardo (also called Fiore Sardo) from Sardinia, less salty and richer in comparison with the Romano type. From the central parts of Italy, there is also Pecorino Toscano. From the south, there is Pecorino Siciliano, Pecorino di Filiano (from Basilicata), and Pecorino Crotonese.

However, there’s more to the name Pecorino than first meets the eye. Pecorino is also a wine grape variety.

Pecorino the Wine Grape
The wine grape Pecorino is thought to be native to Italy’s central eastern region Marche. It is also grown in the neighbouring region Abruzzo, which reports the largest plantings with a focus on Chieti, Pescara, and Teramo. In Marche, the largest plantings are found in Ascoli-Piceno (south of the regional capital Ancona, famous for its Verdicchio wines).

Harvested Pecorino grapes

Pecorino for a while was thought to be extinct. It was “discovered” again and has grown rapidly in popularity over the last fifteen years.

If the wine grape has any link to sheep, the story is that sheep ate the grapes when having managed to enter a vineyard. However, the story doesn’t explain why this variety got the name – as most likely also other varieties were equally interesting to the animals.

Pecorino is a grape that comes with naturally high levels of both sugar and acidity, making it a very interesting grape for wine makers. It is interesting as the sugar and acidity combination makes it versatile. It will more easily lend itself to produce different kinds of wine, compared to a variety that is only high in sugar or in acidity.

The high acidity means that Pecorino wines commonly are dry and fresh, even with a touch of minerals. High sugar content leads to high levels of alcohol, 13 – 13,5% is common. Flavours are typically flowery and you might pick up a hint of anise in there as well.

The wine’s freshness makes it a very nice companion to a hard, salty cheese, for example a Pecorino Romano, or Parmesan. It will also be nice with various fish dishes, as well as with roasted chicken dishes.

Sunset in Ascoli-Piceno, Marche, Italy

The best expressions of dry varietal Pecorino wines you can expect to find in the Offida DOCG. Offida is a small municipality some one-hundred kilometres south of Ancona (the regional capital). It is situated in the typical hilly landscape of Marche, a bit inland, but still with a view of the sea.

If you haven’t tasted a Pecorino wine, try to get hold of one. This grape is worth a try.

Anders Hytter