Pecorino Cheese

Food Type:
Age Suggestion: 12 months +
Nutrition Rating:How nutritious a food is with a focus on the specific nutrients babies need for optimal growth. The more nutritious a food, the more stars it will have.
Prep Time:How much time a food takes to prepare safely for a baby. The more time-consuming a food is to prepare safely, the more clocks it will have.
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Common Allergen: Yes (
  • Dairy
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May cause allergic reactions.

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A wedge of pecorino cheese before it has been prepared for a baby starting solid foods

When can babies eat pecorino cheese?

Because it is so high in sodium, it is best to wait until your baby is 12 months or older to introduce pecorino. The best cheeses for babies 6-12 months old are fresh mozzarella, fresh ricotta, goat cheese, mascarpone, and Swiss cheese. These cheeses are usually low in sodium and safe for babies starting solids.

Background and origins of pecorino cheese

Pecorino derives its name from the Latin word pecora, which has evolved to mean “sheep” in Italian and describes the classification of cheese derived from sheep’s milk. There are seven varieties of Italian pecorino cheeses, and three of them dominate the American market: Romano, Sardo, and Toscano. Romano cheese is hard and mostly used for grating. Sardo and Toscano cheeses can be soft or hard. Notoriously salty in taste, pecorino is a feature ingredient in Cacio e Pepe, the famous Italian pasta dish.

14 month-old baby Max tastes the salty pecorino cheese for the first time. Pecorino should not be given to babies younger than 12 months because of it’s high sodium content.
Adie, 14 months, tastes pecorino cheese for the first time. Due to its high sodium content, Pecorino is best served after a baby’s first birthday and in limited amounts.
Julian, 14 months, tries pecorino romano cheese.

Is pecorino cheese healthy for babies?

In moderation if your child is 12 months or older. Pecorino is packed with calcium, fat, and protein, and it is typically easier to digest because it’s aged and made from sheep’s milk. However, pecorino is very high in sodium, which if consumed in excess, can lead to hypernatremia, a condition of having too much sodium in the blood, which affects the balance of water in our bodies.1 Early and excessive exposure to sodium is also thought to play a role in cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and obesity.2

When selecting cheese for your baby or toddler, you want to look for a cheese that is:

  • Pasteurized
  • Low sodium (less than 100mg per serving for babies younger than 12 months)
  • Whole fat

Is pecorino cheese a common choking hazard for babies?

Yes. With the exception of very soft and smooth varieties of cheese (such as ricotta, which is so soft it can even be eaten with a spoon), most cheeses can present choking hazards when not prepared safely for your baby to consume. In fact, cheese is one of the top foods to cause choking in children who are 5 years old and younger. To minimize the risk, grate the cheese over your child’s food, or slice it very thinly and offer just one piece at a time.

For more information, visit our section on gagging and choking and familiarize yourself with common choking hazards.

Is pecorino cheese a common allergen?

Yes. Dairy products, including cheese, are among the top food allergens. Cow’s milk allergy is one of the most prevalent allergies in young children, and it’s likely that a child who is allergic to cow’s milk will also be allergic to sheep and/or goat’s milk.

Research shows that the majority of children with cow’s milk allergy will outgrow it by age 6 and many babies with milder symptoms of milk protein allergy (which can show up as painless blood in stool) are able to successfully reintroduce cow’s milk with the guidance of their doctors.3 4

Pecorino cheese should not be the first dairy product introduced to your babies due to its high level of sodium, and even when they’re ready to consume the cheese (after their first birthday), we recommend beginning with a small serving and watching closely as they eat. That way if there is an allergic reaction, it is hopefully manageable. Because most pecorino cheese is aged, it also contains histamines, which may worsen allergic reactions in some children.

How do you prepare pecorino cheese for babies with baby-led weaning?

6 to 12 months old: Avoid due to sodium levels.

12 to 18 months old: Grate pecorino cheese as a topping on your baby’s dish of noodles or beans. If you’d like to introduce your baby to the salty taste of pecorino on it’s own, slice the cheese into very thin strips (visualize the width and thickness of a ruler) and offer one slice at a time to minimize the choking risk.

18 to 24 months old: Continue to offer small amounts of pecorino grated on other dishes or slice thinly to offer on its own.

For more information on how to cut food for babies, visit our page on Food Sizes & Shapes.

Pecorino has a strong salty taste. Once your baby is ready to try the cheese, use it as a flavor enhancer in moderation. Pecorino tends to taste best when it’s finely grated over pasta—like pixie dust falling on noodles.

Recipe: Baby's First Cacio e Pepe

two piles of bucatini pasta, one whole and one cut into pieces, topped with a pecorino cheese mixture, sitting on a countertop

Ingredients

  • Bucatini pasta
  • Pecorino cheese
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Olive oil
  • Black pepper
  • Reserved pasta water

Directions

  1. Boil the pasta according to its directions (skipping the step to salt the water). Before draining the pasta, reserve 1 cup of the pasta water—you’ll be using it to make the pasta sauce.
  2. While the pasta is cooking, use a box grater or a microplane to grate the pecorino until you have about one heaping spoonful. Mix the pecorino cheese with a couple of teaspoons of parmesan cheese.
  3. Place a skillet on medium heat, and add a generous pour of olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle a pinch of black pepper into the pan, and mix well.
  4. Once the pepper is sizzling, add a small pour of the reserved pasta water, and swirl the pan around to mix the water and oil.
  5. Add the reserved pasta and cheese mix, and working quickly, stir the ingredients together with tongs.If the pasta is sticky or the cheese too clumpy, add a splash of pasta water, and continue mixing until the sauce is smooth and the pasta is evenly coated.
  6. To serve, cut the prepared pasta into 1-inch pieces with kitchen shears. Serve in a bowl for hand scooping. Arm yourself with damp washcloths and a camera to capture this eating adventure!

Flavor Pairings

Pecorino tends to pair well with fresh spring vegetables, such as peas and fava beans, as well as Brussels sprouts, eggs, and the French delicacy, tripe.

  1. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine 2019. Dietary Reference Intakes for Sodium and Potassium. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press
  2. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine 2019. Dietary Reference Intakes for Sodium and Potassium. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press
  3. GiKids – Cow’s Milk Protein Allergy. (2020, February 26). GiKids. https://gikids.org/digestive-topics/cows-milk-protein-allergy/
  4. Wood, R. A., Sicherer, S. H., Vickery, B. P., Jones, S. M., Liu, A. H., Fleischer, D. M., Henning, A. K., Mayer, L., Burks, A. W., Grishin, A., Stablein, D., & Sampson, H. A. (2013). The natural history of milk allergy in an observational cohort. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 131(3), 805-812.e4. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaci.2012.10.060