In Puglia, as in all the southern regions, a bowl of pasta is rarely served without a shower of local, aged pecorino over the top. As a lover of sheep’s milk cheeses of almost every kind, I am especially happy when this shower falls from a block of Canestrato Pugliese, the region’s most prized and flavorful pecorino.
Produced in small quantity, Canestrato Pugliese is not as well-known as Pecorino Romano genuino and Pecorino Toscano. But like them, it is recognized as a culinary treasure of Italy, and has been granted the coveted status of Denominazione di Origine Controllata (D.O.C), which means its name, character and quality are protected by law.
Canestrato Pugliese is made only with milk from sheep grazing on Puglia’s lushest pastures and hard-ripened to exacting specifications in reed baskets (canestro)—which accounts both for the name and the distinctive pattern on the rind. Most important to me, it tastes marvelous, rich and complex, with nuances that somehow express the flavor of the land and the grasses from which it comes. In recent years, during which so many of Italy’s superb regional cheeses have become available in the States, Canestrato Pugliese has remained a treat only to be enjoyed when visiting Puglia.