Piacentinu is a cooked, semi-hard cheese. It is round in shape and available in various ages. Traditionally, it is made in the province of Enna, Sicily, using whole sheep’s milk, pepper and saffron. Although the name of the cheese may lead you to believe that it is produced in the city of Piacenza, the word “piacentino” derives from piacintinu, which means enjoyable in Sicilian dialect, or possibly from piangentinu, or a cheese that crys, referring to the tears (lacrime) of fat that drip off the cheese when opened. Since 1100, piacentino has been known for its saffron color.
Ruggero the Norman (1095-1154), the king of Sicily, asked local cheese-makers to start producing this cheese because he believed that saffron caused an uplifting, anti-depressing, effect. He intended to serve the cheese to his wife. Pepper, a rare and precious spice, was also added to the cheese because it was popular ingredient in the Sicilian Court. Still today, it is made using whole, raw milk from sheep that graze primarily on veccia, a leguminous weed found in and around Enna. The plant gives the cheese its incomparable flavor.
The milk, together with sheep or goat rennet, is heated to 140 degrees F and then whole black peppercorns and saffron are added. Once a mass has formed, the cheese is left to cool in its whey. The cheese is ready after a week. A wheel of piacentino is usually 14 to 16 inches in diameter and weighs between 13 to 26 lbs. The cheese has a soft rind, a fragrant, compact and yellow paste, and a delicate, savory flavor.