What is Ragusano cheese?
As evidenced by its name, Ragusano originates from the provinces of Ragusa as well as the neighbouring area of Siracusa, and it is one of the oldest cheeses produced on the southern island of Sicily, dating back to the 16th century. This cheese itself has a semi-hard consistency and is made from the whole milk of grazing Modicana cattle. Originally known by the name of Caciocavallo (cheese on horseback), it lost its former name after having acquired recognition of PDO (Protected Destination of Origin). Occasionally, circumstances prevent the making of this cheese with Modicana milk, and so it may also be referred to as Cosacavaddu Rausanu or Cosacavaddu Ibleo.
Ragusano is sold in rectangular blocks, at different stages of ageing. When it is young, the cheese has a sweet softness, mild and delicate in the mouth. Cheese ripened beyond 6 months however become tangier with age, and form a distinct hardness that makes the cheese suitable for grating. The rind remains smooth throughout the ageing process and showcases a golden-yellow colour that intensifies with age.
How exactly is it made?
Ragusano cheese is made between November and May, although the start of the year is deemed to be the most appropriate time as the Iblei Hills surrounding the province are littered with fragrant herbs; the grass has not yet been scorched by the summer sun, the mild air yielding perfect growing conditions. The cheesemaker needs a lot of physical strength and the precision in order to craft the right shape of a classic Ragusano. During the final stage of curd stretching – also known as chiusura (closing) – the curd is manually shaped into a sphere. Although labour intensive, the its transformation into an oblong shape is obtained with the help of a mastredda, a type of wooden board upon which the cheese is placed and then moulded. With the assistance of 2 further heavy wooden boards, the sphere is then hand worked until a rectangular shape is achieved. To make sure that the edges of the cheese continue to conform to its traditional shape, the maker must turn it at regular intervals of 20 minutes for 6-8 hours. Finally, it is suspended from the ceiling to age, until, after a few months, it begins to take on a golden hue, releasing scents of Mediterranean herbs and orange blossoms.
What does it pair with?
Due to its high fat content, Ragusano pairs well with a full bodied-wine: if fresh it prefers a Grecanico, if aged a Nero D’Avola, Merlot, Syrah, Primitivo or Cerasuolo di Vittoria. (You can find out more about wine pairings with our handing wine pairing guide here.) Dark beers also work well to bring out the intense, aged flavour of the cheese.
As the wine is also frequently used in Sicilian cuisine, it can be marinated in traditional southern Italian style with olive oil and garlic, and even seasoned with vinegar and oregano.
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