Sicilian Cheese

Ragusa’s Caciocavallo

This cheese, its name’s literal translation being cheese on horseback, is widely recognized as the symbol of this part of the Sicilian island and a synonym for genuineness. The milk comes from cows that graze in the fields of the Iblea zone, collected and treated in small, historical and characteristic masserie, or farms, out of respect for the ancient traditions and prescriptions that have been handed down from generations. The resulting cheese is a true delicacy and delight for more discriminating palates.

Historical Notes
The Caciocavallo Ragusano method is one of the oldest traditions for cheese making in Sicily. The Cascavaddu (in Sicilian) name can be translated as Cheese astride, and it is is believed that the name originates from the old fashioned drying process by which it is made. A cheese with an intense but delicate flavor, with lasting creaminess and detail, Caciocavallo has been exported beyond the borders of the Reign of the two Sicilies since XIV the century. Mention of the commerce of the Caciocavallo Ragusano can be found in history books: the way Carmelo Trasselli in 1515 tells it, Ferdinand the Catholic and Carlo V crammed as much of the aged Ragusano onto their ships as they could, and so it was exported to the greater region of the Mediterranean and transported on the wagons toward the inns as well as the homes of the noble and the notables of the era.


Areas of production : Ragusa and the greater Province of Ragusa; Noto, Palazzolo Acreide, Rosolini in the Province of Siracusa.

Type : Spun paste or pasta filata.


Caciocavallo can be referred to as:

  • Fresh within two months from the production;
  • Semi-aged up to six months from production;
  • Aged beyond six months.


The traditional form is a parallelogram with dulled angles. The rind is smooth and thin but compact, yellow or golden in color, the intensity of color depending upon its age. The cappatura, or covering, is achieved with olive oil. The flavor is pleasant and delicate, sweet and slightly tangy in the first months, tending to grow spicier with age. Caciocavallo vary in weight from 10 Kg to 16 Kg.

Race or species: cow. Cows feed on grassy natural pastures of the Iblei-mountains rich plateaus of wild Mediterranean fields- as well as on vegetables in their stable.

Raw materials: fresh raw cow’s milk and lamb rennet.


Tools used

The tools for working the cheese are made of wood and include:

  • a stick with a crank or wheel;
  • a tinned vat with sieve for spinning;
  • wood tablets, the so-called cugni tablets for the branding, the so-called marchiu;
  • hung container of wood rennet, the so-called pisaquagghiu;
  • clay container for the conservation of the rennet, the so-called quagghialoru;
  • container in wood for the mold preparation of cheeses, the so-called mastredda;
  • directed fire to firewood or gas,
  • concrete bathtubs for the pickling brine.

Production Techniques

The milk of one or two milking it is made to coagulate in a vat of wood to 34° C with the rennet. The obtained paste, the curd, is route with the rotula and made clear in fiscelle on a board of wood, after two hours comes cooked to 80°C for 105 minutes. The curd, passed the just time, is extracted with the hands and put on the mastredda to rest for a day. The successive day the curd is cut to slices and mail in the staccio for the spinning that happens with the aid of the crank and worked warm water by hand. The cheese paste of spherical form is wise mail from the casaro in mastredda of wood thus taking the typical form to parallelepiped of the caciocavallo. The day after happens the salt out for immersion in the pickling brine saturates for 24 hours approximately, according to the weight and of the form.

Aging process

Cheese is conserved in the so-called maizzè, fresh and well-ventilated spaces, such as natural wine cellars and caves
where they are hung a cavallo, or over wooden beams, with ropes of natural fibers called liama, cannu or zammarru.



This cheese is surely one of the oldest and most appreciated of Italian cheeses. Rich in precious nourishing elements, it is a flavorful and easily digestible cheese.


The Sicilian Pecorino has been produced on this island since its first native inhabitants dedicated themselves to the breeding of sheep and took advantage of the luscious green pastures of the hills and valleys. Following the arrival of the ancient Greeks, who conquered the island and annexed it in the Magna Grecia, local cheese production endured the influence of techniques imported by the great civilization. The ancient Greeks were fascinated by Sicily’s natural bounty and its impressive yields to such a point that they referred to the island as the gift of the gods. Aristophanes, philosopher and writer of the IV the century BC, cites Sicilian Pecorino in his work, likewise did Plato extolled the virtues of Sicilian sheep’s milk cheese. Similarly, the ancient Romans, who arrived several centuries later, continued the dairy tradition, favoring the production and the commerce of Siciliancheeses, as they were optimal also for the quality of their conservation, which was necessary for feeding their troops. They also used the cheese in trade. With the Svevo-Normann domination between the IX and the X centuries, Sicilian Pecorino landed at the tables of many noble families throughout Northern Europe.

Areas of production
Prizzi and Palazzo Adriano, in the great area of Palermo for optimal Pecorino Canestrato; Godrano, Corleone, S. Giuseppe Jato, Alcamo and Castellamare del Golfo, Trapani,  for the so-called Pecorino Nostrano; Ragusa and the greater Province of Ragusa.

Type : Hard cheese


Pecorino Siciliano can be referred to as:

  • Fresh after 40 days of maturation and up to 2 months after production;
  • Semi-aged between 2 and 6 months;
  • Aged from 6 months to 2 years post-production.
  • Other denominations for this cheese include canestrato (aged in a basket)
  • pepato (with added black pepper).

The characteristic form is cylindrical with either flat or slightly concave faces. A thick outer rind leads to the superficial striations left from the traditional wicker basket where the curd is set. The flavor is sweet and delicate and tends toward slight tanginess when fresh, its customary form when consumed as a table cheese; The pepato variety is quite spicy. The weight of a Pecorino Siciliano can vary from 4 Kg to 15 Kg.

Race or species: sheep’s milk. Sheep graze in grassy pastures of the plains and valleys, their diets are supplemented by vegetables eaten in their stalls.

Raw materials: fresh raw whole sheep’s’ milk, rennet of sheep.

A note about Canestrato

The Sicilian Canestrato is a true delicacy, it is considered among the most valuable cheeses in the Italian casearia, or dairy, tradition. Canestrato cheese is traditionally produced only by small specialty companies that breed specific types of sheep and cows in order to confer to the cheese a particular and refined flavor. Historical documents bear witness to the fact that Sicilian Canestrato was also used as a precious form of payment for tenancy contracts.

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ricotta big1

Ricotta (Italian pronunciation: [ri-kotta]) is an Italian whey cheese made from sheep (or cow, goat, or Italian buffalo) milk whey left over from the production of cheese.

Ricotta, as well other cheese, it’s made by coagulating the proteins that remain after the casein has been used to make cheese, notably albumin and globulin. Thus, ricotta can be eaten by persons with casein intolerance!

Ricotta (literally meaning “recooked”) uses whey, the liquid that remains after straining curds when making cheese. Most of the milk protein (especially casein) is removed when cheese is made, but some protein remains in the whey, mostly albumin. This remaining protein can be harvested if the whey is first allowed to become more acidic by additional fermentation (by letting it sit for 12–24 hours at room temperature). Then the acidified whey is heated to near boiling. The combination of low pH and high temperature denatures the protein and causes it to precipitate out, forming a fine curd. Once cooled, the curd is separated by passing through a fine cloth.

Ricotta curds are creamy white in appearance, slightly sweet in taste, and contain around 13% fat. In this form, it is somewhat similar in texture to some cottage cheese variants, though considerably lighter. It is highly perishable. Ricotta is a favorite component of many Sicilian desserts, such as “Cassata and Cannoli”.

Ricotta can be beaten smooth and mixed with condiments, such as sugar, cinnamon, orange flower water and occasionally chocolate shavings, and served as a dessert. This basic combination (often with additions such as citrus and pistachios) also features prominently as the filling of the crunchy tubular shell of the Sicilian cannoli, and layered with slices of cake in Palermo’s Cassata.

Combined with eggs and cooked grains, then baked firm, ricotta is also a main ingredient in Naples’ “pastiera”, one of Italy’s many “Easter pies”.

The Sicilian version is naturally sweet and light, while the American is a little saltier and more moist.

Ricotta is also commonly used in savory dishes, including pasta, calzone, pizza, manicotti, lasagne, and ravioli.

Studies suggest that “supplementation with whey protein improves blood pressure and vascular function in overweight and obese individuals”.

Ricotta cheese variations

In addition to its fresh, soft form, ricotta is also sold in three preparations which ensure a longer shelf life: salted, baked and smoked. The pressed, salted, dried, and aged variety of the cheese is known as ricotta salata, a must for “pasta alla Norma”, is milky-white and firm, and used for grating or shaving. Ricotta salata is sold in wheels, decorated by a delicate basket-weave pattern.Ricotta infornata is produced by placing a large lump of soft ricotta in the oven until it develops a brown, lightly charred crust, sometimes even until it becomes sandy brown all the way through. Ricotta infornata is popular primarily in Sardinia and Sicily, and is sometimes called ricotta al forno.


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