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1/21/2018 7:16 am  #1

Don't Listen to this Guy

I grew up in a house of Southern Italian immigrants. Pecorino was our grated cheese of choice. It was just there, every day. familiar and comforting.

After I grew up, I started using and cooking with parmigiano as well. I love the nutty flavor of parmesan. But, I still love pecorino romano. It's saltiness, it's sharpness.

So, frankly, I was shocked to see this article that describes pecorino as some sort of awful, difficult to use substance.
This author knows very little about Italian cheeses. Not every hard cheese tastes the same. I can only imagine the author's horror when he "discovers" Asiago, and Piave.

Anyway. Pecorino and Parmesan are not interchangeable, anymore than ricotta and mozzarella are interchangeable. That does not mean that one is better than the other.
If all cheeses tasted the same, what would be the point of making different cheeses?

Pecorino Is for Chefs. Let's Keep it That Way.

Why doesn't anyone admit that even a little bit is usually too much?

Yesterday it happened again: the world tried to get me to use pecorino.

This time it was a cookbook, on a page with a recipe for simple, sautéed greens that could have been finished with a fresh farmer's cheese, or some grated manchego. But no. Finish with "lots of pecorino," the chef instructed.

I've heard this so many times by now. For the past ten years (more or less), a message about pecorino has been pushed to unsuspecting eaters like me: Pecorino is the new parmesan, and anybody who knows anything about food (chefs, cookbook writers, etc) knows it.

I resisted this dogma until the moment I couldn't. I was watching two Brooklyn chefs—they run a bunch of Italian restaurants—on TV demonstrate how to make a pasta sandwich.

A sandwich. Stuffed with pasta. For some reason, I watched this to the end.

"Before adding the pasta to the sandwich," one of the chefs said (or, I mean, he said something like that—who am I, Rain Man?) "shower the pasta with parmesan."

"No, no," his co-chef said.

"Sorry, pecorino. Shower the pasta with pecorino."

An on-air correction! And all for pecorino. Dang, I thought. Pecorino must be the stuff.

But pecorino is not the stuff. It's not the stuff for home cooks, anyway. I know, because I listened to those chefs and ditched parm for pecorino. When I had spaghetti to douse in cheese, it was pecorino I slid over my microplane. Platters of broccoli rabe? Raw kale salad? World-famous lasagna? I swapped pecorino for the parm in all of them. (Note: When most folks refer to Pecorino, they mean Pecorino Romano, the most common and, perversely, the most aggressive of the Italian sheep's milk cheeses.)

And in each case, I felt pecorino's knife-like bite, its musky punch, stab me in my tongue, my cheeks, the delicate roof of my mouth. It was a sharpness that was akin to being screamed at. Man up! pecorino seemed to be screaming. The pain is where the flavor is! It was like being in a CrossFit class, if CrossFit classes were led not by cheesy instructors but by actual cheese.

And then came the voices of those hipster chefs in my head.

Parmesan is for losers, loser!

Pecorino is ON TREND!

So much yelling! And for awhile, it worked. I kept buying and grating and eating pecorino like an obedient, ahem, sheep. I believed in it so fully that two years ago, in one of my first acts as editor of this website, I suggested we put pecorino on a list of essential pantry items. "Parmigiano is great. Pecorino is better," I wrote. I'm sure that made the chefs in my head happy. But now I have to apologize to America, because what I wrote is a ludicrous lie.

Please, let me redeem myself. Pecorino is great if you're making cacio e pepe. But for almost every other dish on the planet, I'll take parm. Good, salty, nutty parm (be it domestic parmesan or real-deal Italian Parmigiano) is near perfect, and it is particularly perfect as an all-purpose cheese for home cooks. You can eat it by itself, dressed with nothing but a little balsamic. It melds seamlessly—non-aggressively—into pastas, salads, and sandwiches. It is distinctive, it is not easily quieted—but unlike macho, bossy pecorino, it will never, ever make you do push-ups.

We live in a time in which decent and otherwise sensible people are surrendering too easily to the hectoring of morons or extremists. 

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