Siena, the city of the Pope and Pecorino

The secret is all in the clay. The expression is actually referring to the clay soil found in Valdorcia on which lush fields of grass grow. This grass is noted for the particular taste it gives to the milk produced by the sheep which eat it, milk which is then used to produce the region’s famous cheese: the Pecorino di Pienza.

Pienza is a small town located at the heart of the Chianti region’s main production zone, not too far away from the towns of Montalcino, Montepulciano and Chianciano Terme. It is a town which is known for two things: its cheeses and the architectural style of the town. Although they are two completely different areas of excellency, these two characteristics are both a result of the uniqueness of its land.

In 1459, Enea Silvio Piccolomini became the Pope, under the name Pio II, and in the same year he subsequently decided to build an entire city in his own honour. He chose to develop his city in Valdorcia, a settlement which surrounds the Corsignano Castle. This is a location which was particularly favourable due to its elevated position. Following his choice of location, he then entrusted the construction of his city to an architect called Rossellino who built a city for him created entirely according to humanitarian issues such as balance and harmony. Pienza (known as Pio’s city) is still a prime example of a humanitarian city today, with its geometrical architecture and central piazza.

Of course, there must a been a good reason behind Piccolomini’s final choice of location, as it would in effect be responsible for carrying his name throughout history. The Valdorcia is a rich and fertile land which is noted for its excellence in the areas of wine production and olive oil production, a factor of which Piccolomini must have been fully aware when making his decision.

The most famous product of the area is without a doubt its pecorino, which has a sweet, aromatic yet slightly spicy flavour. Its taste is exceptionally good when accompanied by a good red wine (maybe even a Chianti or Nobile di Montepulciano if we want to stay local). Other less traditional combinations include mixing the cheese with fresh fruit (particularly pear), jam and honey.

The unmistakable taste of Pienza’s pecorino is definately thanks to the fragrant grass which grows from the area’s clay soils and clay rocks. This is because the flocks of sheep which are reared here produce a very unique tasting milk as a result of their diet which, of course, consists of this grass.

Pienza’s cheese workshops are simply wonderful. They open out onto the stone paved streets of the town with their little windows and dark doorways which leave you to imagine the goodness and richness of the products sold inside.

Traditionally, Pienza’s pecorino comes in the shape of a cylinder (and is usually sold by the kilo or half kilo) with a reddish outer layer which is a result it being treated with oil and tomato. However, the cheese can come in various other varieties: seasoned with ash, bay leaves or even hay, smaller varieties, varieties flavoured with chilli, truffle or aromatic spices, more mature varieties which have a dryer edge making it easier to grate.


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