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Of the four main varieties of Pecorino, all of which have Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status under European Union law, Pecorino Romano is probably the best known outside Italy, especially in the United States which has been an important export market for the cheese since the 19th century. Most Pecorino Romano is produced on the island of Sardinia, though its production is also allowed in Lazio and in the Tuscan Province of Grosseto.
The other three mature PDO cheeses are the Pecorino Sardo from Sardinia; Pecorino Toscano, the Tuscan relative of Pecorino Sardo (made almost exclusively by Sardinians who emigrated to Southern Tuscany with their flocks in the 1950s); and Pecorino Siciliano (or Picurinu Sicilianu in Sicilian) from Sicily.
All come in a variety of styles depending on how long they have been aged. The more matured cheeses, referred to as stagionato (“seasoned” or “aged” ), are harder but still crumbly in texture and have a decisive buttery and nutty flavours. The other two types “semi-stagionato” and “fresco” have softer texture and milder cream and milk tastes.
In the South it is traditional to add black peppercorns or red chili flakes to Pecorino. Today many other additions are made, for example walnuts or rucola or tiny pieces of white or black truffle. In Sardinia, the larvae of the cheese fly are intentionally introduced into Pecorino Sardo to produce a local delicacy called casu marzu.
A good Pecorino Stagionato is often the finish of a meal, served with pears and walnuts or drizzled with strong chestnut honey. Pecorino is also often used to finish pasta dishes, and used to be the natural choice for most Italian regions from Umbria down to Sicily, rather than the more expensive Parmigiano-Reggiano. It is still preferred today for the pasta dishes of Rome and Lazio, for example Pasta dressed with sugo all'amatriciana, Pasta Cacio e Pepe, and Pasta alla Gricia.