Pecorino Romano saves lives

Traditionally, the salted rind of Pecorino Romano is painted black.

OK, I’m stretching journalistic licence somewhat with that headline but the fact of the matter is that a joint Italian-American study reveals even small amounts of Pecorino Romano protect against arteriosclerosis and contain anti-inflammatory and cancer-fighting properties.

The Universities of Sassari and Cagliari (Sardinia, Italy) in conjunction with a team of doctors from the United States, announced this week the results of a six-year long research study confirming that Pecorino or sheep’s-milk cheese contains high amounts of CLA (Conjugated Linoleic Acid), an Omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acid naturally found in certain food groups and which shows bioactive properties for humans.

The study, conducted in Sardinia from 2003 to 2009 confirms the health benefits of CLA, including “reducing fat, suppressing diabetes, preserving muscle tissue and inhibiting tumor growths on the skin, mammary glands and stomach.”

Wow! Almost makes me rush out and buy the stuff.

CLA is found primarily in milk and dairy products and in the meat of ruminants: sheep, goats, lamb, cattle. Results are highest when ruminants are fed on fresh grass.

The study found that the “regular, ongoing consumption of Pecorino cheese, as part of a balanced and calorically correct diet, contributes a set of bioactive elements capable of significantly reducing the risk factors associated with eating habits in Western countries. Such as cardiovascular diseases, the enhancement of the immune defenses, the proven anti-inflammatory and cancer-fighting properties.”

Why Pecorino? Grass-fed sheep produce a high level of CLA. It is the grazing grass that gives the product its unique nutritional and therapeutic properties. In Sardinia, a region where more than 50% of the farmland is used as pastures, the sheep are fed more than 80% of daily intake with fresh grass, and the livestock techniques used guarantee respect of the animals and their well-being.

“High amounts of combined linoleic acid are a natural byproduct, and not produced through sophisticated, artificial processes or through genetic modifications. The more the sheep feed on grass pasture, the greater the concentration of unsaturated fatty acids in the Omega-3 family and CLA in products made from their milk. Obviously these benefits are added to the other common benefits of milk, such as the presence of calcium and branched amino acids that are especially important in combating osteopenia or osteoporosis in post-menopausal women and in combating overweight and obesity. Pecorino Romano cheese can be eaten even by those who are lactose intolerant. In addition, to protecting the coronary arteries and protecting against arteriosclerosis, CLA has important immunostimulant, anti-tumor, antioxidant and anti-diabetic properties.”

OK, that does it! Out the door I go, but as my nearest cheesemonger is more than an hour away, I end up at a neighbourhood supermarket where I find Romano cheese, without Pecorino cited, under the Tre Stelle brand, part of the Arla Foods conglomerate. The label says the cheese is made in Italy and the ingredients listed are sheep’s-milk cheese—pecorino, in Italian, from the word for sheep, pecora—and bacterial culture, salt and rennet. It costs $3.92 per 100 grams.

I give it 90 minutes to come up to temperature and then pop a chunk into my waiting mouth. Not bad, but a tad salty, which is why Pecorino Romano is primarily used for grating. It’s sort of like a Parmigiano-Reggiano but in a sheep’s-milk kind of way: sharp and earthy, yellowish white. With a Niagara merlot at hand, several additional pieces find their way into my mouth. Doesn’t quite melt on the tongue like the best Reggiano does, but I’m certain it will go well—for about two-thirds the price—with the tomato sauce I’ll make for pasta tonight.