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Ancient origins and current regional distributionEdit
Pliny the Elder, in his major encyclopædic work Naturalis Historia, describes several stages in the production of pecorino Toscano, which he names as Lunense, apparently after the territory of Lunigiana (today western Tuscany). Traditionally, production began in the month of March, and this is believed to be the reason it appears as Cacio Marzolino in a memoir on Tuscan cheeses written towards the end of the seventeenth century by Francesco Molinelli.
The cheese is prepared with full cream, pasteurized ewe's milk, often by farm-based cheese producers.
The cheese is ready to be eaten after a maturation period of just twenty days. However, it is generally regarded as a hard cheese, frequently used for grating, and to achieve this characteristic hard texture, the cheese should be left alone for at least four months.
The cheese usually takes the form of a semi-flattened sphere, typically with a diameter between 15—22 cm (5.9—8.7 in) and a height between 7—11 cm (2.8—4.3 in). The weight will normally be between 0.75—3.5 kg (1.65—7.72 lb). The outer rind is yellow coloured, but there is considerable variability according to how the outside of the cheese has been washed during maturation (generally with a combination involving crushed tomato, ash and/or olive oil).
There is a wide range of uses for the cheese, which varies according to local traditions and the season. The delicate flavour of a young pecorino Toscano can provide an excellent complement to salad-based starters. As the cheese matures and the flavour strengthens, it can be eaten with honey or jam, as well as with fresh vegetables or fruits (especially pears and figs). Well matured pecorino Toscano is widely used across Italy as an alternative to parmesan for grating over a wide range of dishes, especially pastas or soups.