Lapo Salvadori milks his sheep by hand on his farm in the Tuscan countryside, where he has been making cheese since he was a child. Now, in his light-filled kitchen, we are standing over a huge pan, heating the resulting raw milk to 25 deg C. The jovial farmer (above) – whose claim to fame is a brief appearance in the 2003 movie Under the Tuscan Sun, which was filmed nearby – is teaching me how to make a firm pecorino toscano.
We gently stir the creamy liquid, then add rennet and leave the mixture to settle for 20 minutes. Once the curds have set, the result is a deceptively light cheese known as raviggiolo. Salvadori scoops off a section to eat later, then vigorously stirs the remaining curd with what is known locally as a frulla (spiked wooden stick) as we continue the pecorino-making process.
As I plunge my forearms into the warm liquid, Salvadori chuckles at my amazement as I discover a heavy mass of soft cheese, which has formed in the bottom of the mixture. Careful not to break it, we pull the slab out of the pan and put it into plastic moulds.
“Pinch! Pinch! Pinch!” says Salvadori with a laugh, as he demonstrates the pecking motion used to break the surface of the skin to release any excess liquid. As I turn the mould, I’m excited to see the distinctive ridged pattern has already formed on the base of the cheese.
Salvadori also shows me how to prepare the pecorino for the ageing process. Following his lead, I generously smother each hunk of cheese with sea salt. After a month, Salvadori will coat the slabs in a grainy mixture of wood ash and homemade olive oil. They will then be aged for three more months, after which I’ll return to collect my cheese and savour the irresistible tang of my very own pecorino toscano.
– TEXT BY SARAH LANE
This article was originally published by Singapore Press Holdings.