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How to stop Pecorino Romano from clumping?

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I've tried replicating the delicious cacio e pepe we had in Rome, at home -- three times. But no matter which recipe we use (Epicurious, Saveur, and the one from the restaurant we ate at in Rome), the pecorino clumps, instead of making a nice, creamy sauce. We're following the instructions to "stir vigorously until a sauce forms to prevent clumping" but it doesn't work!

I'm wondering what we're doing wrong - can someone help? Could it possibly be the type of cheese we bought? I bought a fairly expensive pecorino from Whole Foods, which I'm assuming is the "correct" type of cheese to use for this, but it doesn't seem to be working. We grated it coursely, the first time, and finely the other times -- but nothing worked.

Help!

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  1. Cook's Illustrated featured this recipe a while back and had the same problems you're having. Their solution was to cook the pasta in less water than usual, creating extra starchy water (2 quarts of water for a pound of pasta), and using a cup of that water to create the sauce. It calls for 6 oz. of finely grated cheese - pour in a cup of hot pasta water and whisk until smooth, then add two tablespoons of cream (another secret weapon) and two teaspoons of oil and whisk again, then pour over your pasta and toss. Adjust with extra pasta water as necessary.

    The cream is non-traditional but if it helps, why not? I would imagine that an egg yolk would probably serve the same purpose (but might change the flavor profile more than cream does).

    1. Are you sprinkling in the cheese a bit at a time while the "wet" pasta is tossed? Doing it bit by bit we've not had a problem. Also, there needs to be some olive oil in there too.

      1. If you're adding the Pecorino before you take the pasta off the heat you may be overheating the Pecorino. Likewise, if you making a sauce with the Pecorino and then adding it to the pasta you may be overheating the sauce.
        This too may help you:
        http://www.americastestkitchen.com/re...

        1 Reply
        1. re: todao

          I agree. We usually do it in a large, heated bowl. Maybe that's what makes the difference.

        2. I keep my Pec-Romano in the freezer, which makes grating it easier. Perhaps that would help as it would not melt as quickly?

          1. Thanks for all the ideas.. It does seem that the starch in the water is key, here. We did mix it in with the pasta, but that was BEFORE we added the cheese. I'll try adding the cheese to the water, and oil/cream, in a warm bowl, and THEN adding it to the pasta, and see if that makes a difference.

            Otherwise, you're right, tadao, I might be overheating everything!

            For such a "simple" recipe, it certainly is tricky to make. I'll update you once we try this again!