Sheep’s milk + saffron + black peppercorns + Sicily = piacentinu, my new all time favorite cheese. What’s not to love?
Piacentinu is a cooked, semi-hard cheese. It is round in shape and available in various ages. Traditionally, it is made in the province of Enna, Sicily, using whole sheep’s milk, pepper and saffron. Although the name of the cheese may lead you to believe that it is produced in the city of Piacenza, the word “piacentino” derives from piacintinu, which means enjoyable in Sicilian dialect, or possibly from piangentinu, or a cheese that crys, referring to the tears (lacrime) of fat that drip off the cheese when opened. Since 1100, piacentino has been known for its saffron color.
Ruggero the Norman (1095-1154), the king of Sicily, asked local cheese-makers to start producing this cheese because he believed that saffron caused an uplifting, anti-depressing, effect. He intended to serve the cheese to his wife. Pepper, a rare and precious spice, was also added to the cheese because it was popular ingredient in the Sicilian Court. Still today, it is made using whole, raw milk from sheep that graze primarily on veccia, a leguminous weed found in and around Enna. The plant gives the cheese its incomparable flavor.
Is it true that saffron provides an anti-depressive effect? Experimenting with saffron brings pleasures I’ve written about time and again here in this blog: saffron scented fish, Combal Zero’s perfect saffron risotto, my own take on saffron gelato. Who knew there was as such a thing as saffron scented cheese? I ate it as is, savoring its flavors and texture.
The buyers at Eataly knew, as did my chef friends. Hmm. Another great thing about Eataly: you can always find something new there….and talk about it with foodie friends, investigate it online and share the findings in your food blog. Eataly’s gifts keep giving. Oh, happy days!