Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Pienza: Pecorino, Piccolomini & Terrazza del Chiostro

Pliny the Elder praised it and Lorenzo the Magnificent was fond of it: pecorino di Pienza is a cheese that for centuries has embodied the taste of the land and traditions of one of Tuscany's most beautiful valleys, the Val d'Orcia. Located in the stunning hills between Montepulciano and Montalcino, Pienza is a charming Renaissance village that produces some of the best pecorino cheese in the country. It's also the first town we visit whenever we're in Umbria. 
Named after locally born Pope Pius II, Penza has been a UNESCO protected World Heritage Site since 1996. The architectural focal point is the square Piazza Pio II, surrounded by the Duomo and pope's family residence, Palazzo Piccolomini, and the beautiful gardens in the Palazzo's interior courtyard. However, the culinary spotlight is the town's Pecorino cheese together with the Pienza's friendly shop owners, quaint cobblestone streets, lovely restaurants and quiet unhurried lifestyle. With it's small size and charismatic centro storico, this beautiful little hilltop town captures the true essence of Tuscany.

Derived from the Italian word for sheep —'pecora' —pecorino is made from full cream ewe's milk and the naturally growing herbs and shrubs that the sheep graze on around Pienza, are what give the cheese its unique quality, texture and character. The cheese can be sold fresh, medium-aged and well matured, and while the flavours are quite different, it's a matter of taste when deciding which is your preferred choice: fresco, semistagionato or stagionato. Throughout the town, shops are laden with hundreds of flattened spheres of mouth-watering Pecorini, as well as Pienza's great local honey, which pairs up perfectly with the pungent stagionato. One of the finest and most beautiful restaurants in Pienza is La Terrazza del Chiostro, located in a 15th-century ex-convent beside the Palazzo Piccolomini. The cuisine and views from the outdoor terrace are simply sublime. Having arrived in Pienza on a busy Sunday afternoon, with the weekend flower market in full swing, we were seated at a beautiful table for two overlooking the spectacular Val d'Orcia, and enjoyed a sumptuous lunch of local cured meats and pecorino, homemade pasta and a crisp white wine from San Gimignano to toast our first day in Italy's culinary and cultural embrace.

The splendid Sunday flower market in Pienza

We bought a fragrant gardenia and little pot of rosemary at the market 
to enjoy during our two weeks at Casa Boronia

Flowers and more flowers

Palazzo Piccolomini was the residence of Pope Pius II

The Palazzo Piccolomini gardens with sweeping views over the Tuscan countryside

Marusco & Maria Prodotti Tipici della Toscana in Pienza

The courtyard entrance to Pienza's beautiful Terrazza del Chiostro is
located in a 15th-century ex-convent

The gorgeous outdoor terrace of Terrazza del Chiostro overlooks the fertile Val d'Orcia

San Felice Acqua di Toscana

Strozzi Vernaccia di San Gimignano

The sumptuous lunch menu

Selection of local salami, prosciutto and pecorino fresco

Sautéed fresh octopus served on soft saffron perfumed potato mousse

Pici with rabbit ragout, fresh peas and guanicale

Tagliolini agli spinaci mantecati con tartufo della crete senesi su fonduto di pecorino semi staginato

The Dessert Menu

Mousse ai Cioccolato Amedi con terra nera allo zucchero mauritanio ed arancia candita

Three scoops of sweet and creamy house-made Gelati



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