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Pepper to use for Cacio e Pepe

I'm making cacio e pepe next week, and I plan to buy some peppercorns this week at an Indian spice shop that sells many varieties of peppercorn. What would be the best peppercorn to use? Should I try Tellicherry, Malabar, or maybe the red or green peppercorns?

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  1. For this Roman dish I prefer Tellicherry peppercorns. It has a more robust flavor than the others you're considering, and since that's one of three flavoring ingredients it should stand out. Make sure you use the best Pecorino Romano you can find. Parmigiano just doesn't belong in this dish...

    1. Traditionally it's black pepper, not red or green, and the variety is up to the chef, as long as it's freshly ground and in copious quantity. Malabar and Tellicherry peppercorns are from the same region of Inda, Tellicherry being the higher grade grown on the Malabar plants on Mount Tellicherry. However, Malabar has a slightly higher piperine (the alkaloid responsible for pungency in peppercorns) content, so they'll be just a bit spicier than Tellicherry. Malabar vs. Tellicherry, what you use is your call. I've never seen a Cacio e Pepe recipe specify peppercorn variety; what's important is that the peppercorns are fresh and freshly ground (coarsely cracked is the term I use to describe the grind). Excellent Romano is very important, also!

      2 Replies
      1. re: bushwickgirl

        I read someplace that poorer Italians used to save the pepper corns from salami to use in special peppery dishes like this or peposo (beef shanks cooked red wine and black pepper).

      2. mmmmmm, my son gave us a pasta maker for xmas and lessons on fresh pasta in which the simple and delish recipe of cacio e pepe was used to highlight the pasta. Sooooo fantastic,

        1. By odd coincidence, I just made this dish for the first time tonight! It was terrific--really demonstrating the truism that great Italian food is often just very simple, good ingredients and basic technique.

          As for pepper, I used my regular stuff (Telicherry). I would not look for anything far from that (like red, green, etc.), but I imagine that any fresh ground black pepper should work well.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Bada Bing

            I just tried it myself. I think the mountain on which the pepper was grown is a minor issue. The tricky part is getting the right amount of pepper, enough to be a major flavor, but not too much for your taste. The pepper in this dish had a significant after taste. So a simple taste while mixing may not be enough to judge its full effect.

          2. We use the very common black pepper, freshly ground.
            Anyway I congratulate you. I am a roman doc and have never managed to cook a good Cacio e Pepe.
            The most delicious dishes of Italian cuisine are simple and have few natural ingredients but are extremely difficult to prepare.

            1. I made this dish tonight and found the biggest problem is the cheese and pepper clumping together. I have to try a few other ways to mix. One way on Utube was mixing the water and cheese before adding it to the pasta.

              5 Replies
              1. re: taurus30

                I have had this problem as well - even using the cook's illustrated method that says it doesn't clump (it does for me).

                I have found that bringing a little butter, pasta water, and the cheese to a boil before adding the pasta worked wonders for me - no more clumping cheese!

                I LOVE this dish.

                1. re: taurus30

                  I bet that clumping will be more of a problem if you're trying to use Parmagiano cheese. If you're not already doing so, try using a Pecorino Romano, or at least a drier grating cheese.

                  I've had no problems with clumping, but have only tried one technique: this one from online:


                  1. re: Bada Bing

                    Ditto, Parm will melt and may clump if not turned into a sauce, but a drier Romano will just coat the pasta.

                  2. re: taurus30

                    You want to cook the pasta in less water than usual, to get a higher starch content in the water. When the pasta is nearly done, take some pasta cooking water by the tablespoonful and melt the cheese first.

                    1. re: taurus30

                      The solution to the clumping problem is time and very low heat. I've made the dish with only cacio de romano, only pecorino, and a combination of pecorino and parmigiana and if you do it right it never clumps regardless of the type of cheese.
                      Cook the pasta and save about 2 cups of the water (you won't need nearly this much, but a little insurance never hurt). Place the pasta in a wide skillet or back in the pot you cooked it in. Add the cheese and a little pasta water. You really don't need any butter to help the consistency, but it may add to the flavor. Now, stir, stir, and stir some more. If it looks dry, add more hot pasta water, if it has enough water but keeps clumping, place the pot over VERY low heat and keep stirring. Eventually the sauce will emulsify and become smooth. Too much heat and the cheese will separate into oil and solid constituents. If the sauce is too thick, add more pasta water (this may cause it to clump up again, so keep stirring).
                      Trust me, it will work. If you have ever attempted to make buttercream frosting you will understand what I mean - lumpy and nasty at first, but perfect at the end.