By: Co+op

Romano cheese has been delighting taste buds—including those of Roman soldiers—for over 2,000 years. Judging by the writings of Hippocrates and Pliny the Elder, Romano cheese-making techniques haven't changed all that much since then, either.

The straw-yellow, hard cheese is slightly granular and bursts into a delightfully sharp and salty flavor when it hits your taste buds. Think Parmesan or Asiago, but richer, stronger and more pungent. While most Romanos produced in the United States are made from cows' milk or a combination of cows' and other milk, Romanos from elsewhere, notably Rome, may be made from sheeps' milk, goats' milk, and/or cows' milk. The curds are molded, then drained, pierced, salted and brined. Romano cheese is aged for at least five months.

The most well-known variety is Pecorino Romano. It has a protected origin destination (DOP), so it must be made in specific areas of Italy with milk from particular sheep. Sharp and tangy, it's aged eight months or longer and is made in a round mold. It's sometimes called "Locatelli," though Locatelli is actually a brand name.

Caprino Romano is a very sharp version of Romano, also made from goats' milk, and Vacchino Romano, made from cows' milk, is a milder variety.

A stellar table cheese, Romano is enhanced by a drizzling of olive oil and/or balsamic vinegar. It's delicious shaved on green salad, and it's a particularly good partner for sturdy Romaine lettuce. Sprinkle Romano on dressings and dipping sauces to bring the flavor up a few notches.

In cooking, Romano is a wonderful addition to white sauces; mashed potatoes; egg dishes such as quiche, omelets and frittatas; ravioli, lasagna and other pasta recipes; pizza; breads and soups. Stir some into cream soups, or sprinkle it atop hearty stews and soups, like this hearty kale and white bean stew. Include some in your next panini, where it'll maintain its flavor beside all manner of veggies, meats, and other cheeses.

This robust cheese goes well with fruity wines like Riesling and Prosecco and hearty red wines, like Chianti or Cabernet Sauvignon. A handful of toasted walnuts will bring out the flavor of both the cheese and the wine.

Romano pairs well with onions, tomatoes, olives, mozzarella cheese, pears, walnuts, and balsamic vinegar. Spices that enhance Romano include oregano, basil, garlic and black pepper.

The best way to retain the moisture and maximize the flavor of Roman is to buy a wedge and grate as needed. To store, wrap in parchment or cheese paper, followed by plastic wrap or a plastic bag. Romano will keep a long time, up to a year, in the refrigerator. If any mold develops on the surface, simply cut off the mold plus an inch around the mold and rewrap the cheese in new paper.

To freeze, cut into small chunks and wrap in freezer wrap or foil, then place in a freezer bag. Thaw it in the refrigerator. Use cheese that's been frozen in cooked dishes, as it will become crumbly when thawed.

Romano can easily become a kitchen staple, performing as a garnish or main ingredient and enhancing everything from soups to salads. Delizioso!