The city of Pienza is about 1.40 hour from Florence to the south of Siena. It was completely remodelled to represent the architectural style of the Renaissance in honour of Pope Pius II.
Pienza, with its perfect proportions and aesthetically pleasing buildings is considered the Ideal City, and a model for all others. But Pienza isn’t only renowned for having birthed a pope and being beautiful, it is also famous for its pecorino cheese.
How the Cheese Is Made
Centuries ago, Sardinian shepherds migrated to Pienza with their sheep. Renowned for their pecorino cheese, they brought their culinary tradition to this part of Tuscany. This hard paste sheep cheese is aged in moulds made from wine barrels.
The cheese wheels are 12 to 16 cm wide and 5 to 12 cm high. The cheese has been known to have delicate flavours of wine, chestnut, laurel and other herbs.
What Makes the Pienza Pecorino Special
The unique flavour of Pienza’s pecorino cheese is in great part due to the untouched vegetation of the hills of Val d’Orcia. The sheep graze on wild plants and grass which transfer into their milk and ultimately into the cheese itself.
Moreover, unlike traditional pecorino which uses goat rennet to curdle the sheep’s milk, the one from Pienza uses calf rennet. This gives Pienza’s pecorino a milder, more delicate taste.
Different Types of Pienza Pecorino
There are 3 types of Pecorino di Pienza:
- The fresh pecorino called primo sale is soft with an edible rind. It’s perfect grilled or melted.
- The semi-mature pecorino (semistagionato) usually has a red rind. It is matured for two to five months and has a delicate, well rounded taste.
- The mature pecorino (stagionato) usually has a black rind and is matured for at least five months. It is good grated or accompanied by honey and/or fruit preserves to counteract its sharper taste.
When to Enjoy It
If you are planning a trip to Pienza, consider coming the last week of August. The city organises a week of sagra dedicated to the famous Pecorino di Pienza.
It’s the perfect opportunity to try and compare the production of local farmers and taste local dishes.
The Cacio al Fuso Game
The first weekend of September is also when the cheese wheels come out for the very competitive game of Cacio al Fuso. Contestants kneel on the floor and throw their wheel in a spiral like shape to bring it as close as possible to an upright spindle. This game has been played around Pienza for generations and a good excuse to slice up the wheel and eat it once a winner has been established.
Pienza is not the only beautiful town in Val d’Orcia. Consider planning a trip to the neighbouring cities of Montepulciano and Montalcino, both famous for their wine production. The tour operator I Just Drive! organises day trips to Val d’Orcia that include a visit to a cheese making farm and a cheese tasting!