The Rarest Tuscan Cheese

Porcorino

In a town nestled in a thickly wooded valley on a volcanic slope in southern Tuscany you may be able to discover what is certainly Italy’s most closely-guarded culinary secret, a rare cheese made from pig’s milk called Porcorino (Porcherino in the local dialect).

Shaped into firm, exquisite rounds only an inch or two in diameter, produced in small quantities almost exclusively for local use for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years, some food scholars have speculated that one of the objects on the table in Da Vinci’s famous fresco of The Last Supper in Milan, is in fact a round of this tasty food. How such a localized product was brought to the great painter’s attention is unknown, however, and the contention remains controversial.

I first learned of Porcorino from my friend Jane, who maintains a home outside a town in Tuscany made uncomfortably notorious by a best-selling book and film. She had heard about this particular product of the Tuscan hills, but the exact location of its manufacture was obscure. Rumor may have placed it far up the Van di Chiana. Nothing was known of its methods of manufacture. All was shrouded in the obscurity of legend.

My curiosity was piqued, and if it in fact existed at all, I was determined to find it. After many years of casual, intermittent questioning in many a country trattoria (perhaps in this case, trotteria?), I stumbled quite by chance on the single village where it is still produced. There I was introduced to the head of the family.

After a tour of his farm one damp autumn afternoon we settled in the kitchen over miniscule glasses of fresh grappa. Much to my delight he brought from a locked wooden coffer a small half-round and offered me the opportunity to taste a miniscule flake of the treasured cheese.

It has a consistency both firm and runny, somewhere between brie and peccorino. The flavor clobbers the hard palate with a sensation nearly indescribable in its complexity and overwhelming richness: a product of the swine to make one swoon. Imagine a milky tiramisu that melts and vibrates before exploding with overtones of porcini mushroom and a back taste hint of chestnuts (perhaps a product of the pig’s diet). Imagine damp woods, crisp autumn leaves crunching under foot, a dog barking in the distance. Imagine wild strawberries and rotting logs.

Challenges to Porcorino production are great. Although pig milk, at eight and a half percent butterfat, is exceptionally rich and the proportions of components like water and lactose are similar to those of cow milk, pigs produce on average only thirteen pounds of milk a day, far below that of a cow (at 65 pounds). For now production is limited to a few thousand liters every year from a small herd of half-wild swine.

Milking a pig is extraordinarily difficult, to say the least. For one thing, they have fourteen teats as opposed to a cow’s four, and when stimulated to produce oxytocin, they eject the milk for only fifteen seconds at a time (the ejection time of a cow, by contrast, is well over ten minutes). Hence it requires enormous dexterity, skill and speed. Only two or three members of one family carry on the tradition. They are now quite elderly and the young are moving away to Rome or Florence. It isn’t at all certain the tradition can be maintained.

Since I was sworn to secrecy I cannot reveal the exact location or name of the village. But the hunt itself is more than half the fun. Just ask on your travels through the region if anyone knows of the traditional Pig Cheese of Tuscany. Eventually your patience is sure to be rewarded! After all, Porcorino (or Porcherino), likely the only pig cheese found anywhere in the world, is an experience out of this world.

Rob Swigart

National porcorino day is April 1st

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Comments

Friday, January 09TH, 2009 by Guest

I am making a proposal to a film production, for a film with the "Food Divas in Italy"-- Martha Stewart, Frances Mayes. Perhaps we can also get Nigella or Rachel Ray may for cameo appearances. Please give me directions on how to find the Porcorino so we can film this valuable artiginale treasure.

Thank You, Jane Dolada

Saturday, July 25TH, 2009 by Guest

Dear Rob,
I have lived in Tuscany for about 40 years and I have never heard about this cheese. I have asked all my Tuscan friends who know a lot about food and "prodotti di nicchia" and none of them have ever heard about porcorino. I have also asked some Slow food members but they don't know anything about this cheese. Can you supply some references or other souces of information where this cheese is mentioned? Are you sure that it isn't a "bufala"?

Saturday, August 07TH, 2010 by Guest

Pecorino - and it is from Rome. Famous Pecorino Romano.

Wednesday, May 11TH, 2011 by Guest

Ok - We admit it ! The Porcorino article was a joke ! The cheese does not really exists since it is almost impossible to milk pigs and therefore to produce cheese from the milk.

Tuesday, June 28TH, 2011 by Guest

Excellent joke - I was hoping to get some Porcorino, knowing it wouldn't have a halal symbol, like so many cheeses now.

Thursday, April 19TH, 2012 by Guest

Thanks for mentioning ‘HALAL”
symbol in one of the posts here. The reason that many Cheese envelops are
coming with "HALAL" print is that even in ordinary cheese, the
product rennet is included which comes from "NON HALAL" sources. It
comes from stomach lining. To be really “HALAL” even rennet coming from cow or
goat can still be NON HALLAL if it is not obtained from a “properly sacrificed
method”. Hence those cheeses that do not have rennet (eg, home-made cheese) or cheeses
that use ONLY non-animal sources for rennet are considered halal as opposed to all
cheese. There are non-animal sources for rennet that are suitable for
consumption by vegetarians.