What is terroir?
From the late Latin terratorium meaning territory (and ultimately from the Latin terra meaning earth), terroir can be defined as the unique confluence of soil, exposure, and climatic conditions that come together to create distinctive aromas and flavors in foods or wines.
Some food experts and historians would add one more element to that mix: Humankind. Human intervention, they argue, is a key element in creating foods and wines that couldn’t be produced anywhere else on earth.
Among Italy’s myriad expressions of terroir — think Nebbiolo wine grapes grown in Piedmont’s Langhe Hills with their classic rose petal notes or richly flavored red onions from Tropea in Calabria — few stand out the way that Pecorino Toscano does.
Pecorino, central and southern Italy’s ubiquitous sheep’s milk cheese, is produced throughout regions like Tuscany, Abruzzo, Lazio, Puglia, and Campania, among other regions.
But the cheeses form each region, although produced in nearly the exact same way using the exact same processes, taste very different from one another. That’s because each region has different soil types, different exposures (i.e., the layout of the land and the altitude), and different weather patterns (including temperature and humidity, for example). And as we noted above, some would also point out that they have different people: Different cultures and histories that have shaped their gastronomic traditions for millennia (literally).
One of the most unique expressions of pecorino can be found in Tuscany, where the cheeses have a highly distinct delicate character and almost “sweet” flavor.
No matter where you are in the world, you can raise sheep and make sheep’s milk cheese exactly as the Tuscans do. But it won’t taste the same. That’s because of the unique confluence of conditions found exclusively in the Tuscan countryside.
Over the next few weeks, the IACC Texas blog is going to be taking a look at the grand tradition of Pecorino Toscano production and why the cheeses are so distinctive.
Along the way, we are sure to discover that Pecorino Toscano is one of the world’s most famous and coveted cheeses for a very simply reason: Tuscany’s unique terroir and the Tuscan people’s devotion to and passion for this wonderful foodstuff.