Pecorino: The Ultimate Winter Soup Cheese

Pecorino Romano Soup Cheese
Pecorino Romano Soup Cheese

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I never grew up eating Pecorino, but this winter it’s become my go-to cheese to serve with soups. The nutty flavor of this quintessential Italian specialty comes from sheep’s milk, and because it’s a rich, fatty cheese a few curls shaved onto a broth add beautiful dimension.

Last week I used a few shavings to brighten up a Swiss chard soup with lentils and kielbasa (recipe below). The pairing was magical, earthy – like a shaft of sunlight hitting forest floor. I swore I would never live through another winter sans Pecorino.

Tasting a variety of Pecs at the cheese counter can be a revelation Some are salt licks. Others are buttered popcorn bombs. And some are baby’s blankets.

I’ve developed a special affection for Pecorino flecked with red pepper. It does double duty on top of pasta and makes for a good after-work snack alongside a handful of olives and pretzels. Add a martini, and you might as well host a mixer.

Here’s an assortment of Pecorinos you could serve at a tasting or keep in your crisper as a soupaholic’s stash: Pecorino Romano (big’n salty), Pecorino Toscano (like buttered popcorn), Pecorino di Pienza (this one’s the baby’s blanket).

Don’t forget to save your rinds and toss them into stock. There’s nothing like a lump of hard cheese to flavor a pot of broth, especially if you’re of the vegetarian persuasion. The following recipe can be made meatless; just add some salt and a splash of balsamic vinegar at the very end.

Swiss Chard Soup with Lentils and Pecorino

This is a fast, hearty soup that keeps and freezes well. If you want to sneak greens into your diet, this is a good way to do it. The emerald leaves and ruby stems from the chard are strangely cheering. You could also sub in spinach, collards, or kale.

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 lb. kielbasa, thinly sliced
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 large carrot
  • 5 cups water
  • ½ cup brown lentils
  • 1 large bunch Swiss chard, de-stemmed and chopped
  • 2 beef bouillon cubes
  • Pecorino shavings
  1. Pour the oil into a soup pot and lightly sauté the kielbasa, garlic, and carrot over medium heat for about 5 minutes. You want the kielbasa to brown and the onions to turn translucent.
  2. Add water, lentils, bouillon, and the chopped chard stems (not the leaves). Bring the pot to a boil, then cover it and turn the heat down. Simmer for 30 minutes.
  3. When the lentils are soft, add the chopped chard leaves. They’ll cook down in about 3 minutes, and your soup will be ready to serve. Ladle into bowls and top with shaved Pecorino or cubed Pecorino “croutons.”

For more wintry cheese brainstorms, please visit Madame Fromage.