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I've tried making Cacio e Pepe a few times, using a recipe from America's Test Kitchen. In Cacio e Pepe, you boil pasta in a limited amount of water, then mix some of the hot starchy water with grated pecorino Romano cheese. The cheese melts/dissolves in the water to form a cheesy liquid which is poured over the pasta.

I've had good luck doing this with Romano, even using domestic cow's milk Romano. But one time I was short on Romano, and tried using about 1/4th Romano and 3/4ths imported Parmesan. When I added the starchy water, some of the cheese dissolved--the Romano, I assume--but most of it coagulated into a gooey, stretchy mass.

What is the difference between Romano and Parmesan, that would make them behave so differently when mixed with hot, starchy water? Are there other similar cheeses--asiago for example--that would work well in this recipe?

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Asiago is probably too fresh to be used in cacio e pepe. –  nico Apr 2 '12 at 20:22
    
@nico: Cacio e pepe classically uses a much younger pecorino than what is generally available, at least in the US. –  Josh Caswell Apr 3 '12 at 1:57
    
A suggestion regarding the America's Test Kitchen recipe . . . I've used that one a few times myself, and discovered that adding the cheese to liquid, a small amount at a time, then waiting for it to melt before adding more, works a lot better than adding the liquid to the cheese. Other tips: make sure the liquid is hot, and stays hot enough to melt the cheese; and make sure the cheese is finely grated. –  Christopher Cashell Apr 4 '12 at 21:03
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2 Answers

up vote 1 down vote accepted

Pecorino Romano is a heavily salted, aged cheese. As a result, it tends not to "melt", just as feta, haloumi, and queso fresco tend not to melt (all are also heavily salted cheeses). Presumably mizithra or ricotta salata would work equally well in the ATK recipe, although they wouldn't taste the same.

If you inadvertently purchase a different kind of pecorino (sardo, for example), or even a fairly young pecorino romano, you'll find that you have the "gooey mess" problem with that procedure.

Now, a comment: the ATK recipe for Cacio e Pepe sounds bizarre to say the least. The normal way of making Cacio e Pepe is:

  1. Cook pasta normally.
  2. Drain pasta, leaving it slightly damp.
  3. Toss pasta in a room-temperature bowl with lots of grated cheese and ground pepper.

If you follow the traditional recipe, then you can use a wider variety of grating cheeses without worrying about it becoming a gooey mass.

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The difference between Pecorino Romano and Parmiggiano Reggiano (Parmesan) is that the first is made from sheep milk, the last from cow milk.I think this is the reason that they behave so differently, because they are made from milk of very different animals.The closest type of cheese to the pecorino romano might be the pecorino sardo.

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There must be more to it than that. Like I said, American cows-milk romano also dissolved in starchy water when I tried it. –  Kenster Apr 3 '12 at 18:49
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