Pecorino Romano is certainly the iconic hard grating cheese of Southern Italy. Also know singularly as "Romano", this salty (Almost too much. But I really like it), kick-in-the-face tangy, sheep's milk cheese is widely known outside of its native region. Sadly it seems most of what we are served as "Romano" here in the states is in fact not the real stuff. In order to be true Pecorino Romano it must be made, get this, in the province of Rome. Crazy right?
Oddly enough you won't find this cheese much north of Rome where Parmigiano Reggiano rules the culinary world. This relatively sharp divide in cheese preference really illustrates the cultural and habitual differences that exist in Italy.
For a rather small-ish country we get the misconception that Italy is a single united culture. The wild, sheepy,vegetal, peppery, dry crumble of Pecorino Romano, versus the refined crystaline, nutty, melted butter flavors of Parmigiano, subtly illustrate the complexity of culture and cheese making in Italy. Although Pecorino Romano is used primarily state-side as a grating cheese, don't forget that it is a worthy table cheese on its own. Look for it in your local cheese shop as a beautiful pile of bone-white cheese or as a rustic 16lb cylinder with flaky black paint. Its extreme salt and olive oil textures make it a delight to explore chunk by chunk. Be sure to pair it with a big, sumptuous, leggy red wine.