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  • Writer's picturePasta Grammar

How to Make Cacio e Pepe | A Foolproof and Totally Traditional Recipe

Updated: Apr 14

Cacio e pepe (literally "cheese and pepper") is one of the simplest pasta dishes out there, yet one of the trickiest to master. Many cooks struggle to create a creamy sauce without thick clumps of stringy cheese, and much of the culinary internet space has devoted itself to finding "foolproof" methods for preparing it. Many of these methods technically work, but they also tend to radically change the nature of the dish and/or overcomplicate this humble pasta. In this recipe, we hope to clear up some confusion and present a technique that is both foolproof, traditional and incredibly yummy at the same time.

Foolproof & Traditional Cacio e Pepe | Authentic Italian Recipe

What Makes Cacio e Pepe So Difficult?

Cacio e pepe should have a very smooth, creamy sauce that coats the pasta in velvety goodness. This can be tricky to achieve, and many cooks find that the pecorino cheese clumps together in gooey, sticky gobs and leaves the pasta in a wet, peppery mess.

So why does this happen?

Before we get to the biggest reason, there are a few minor factors that can contribute to the problem, namely the cheese and pasta. Outside of Italy it can be hard to find Pecorino Romano that stacks up to the quality they have in Italy, and lower quality cheeses can be more difficult to melt properly. Do the best you can, but keep reading because this dish can definitely work even with "subpar" cheese.

In Italy (around Rome, where the dish is from), the choice of pasta is typically a fresh egg pasta called "tonnarelli," which resembles a very thick spaghetti. Because it's a fresh pasta, it releases a lot more starch and helps create a creamy sauce. But it's very difficult to find store bought and most home cooks don't have the tools to make it. Normal spaghetti will work, but it's important to remember that it won't really compare to tonnarelli.

By far, the biggest contributing factor to the "cacio e pepe problem" is heat. When a large quantity of cheese is added into a pan that's too hot, it's guaranteed to clump together. Luckily, this is a very easy problem to solve.

Other Approaches to Cacio e Pepe (and why they fail even if they succeed)

We've seen it all: cacio e pepe sauce made in a blender, cacio e pepe sauce cooked in a bain marie, cacio e pepe sauce emulsified with xanthum gum; you name it, someone has tried it. The problem with these techniques (even if they technically work) is that they defeat the entire purpose of the dish, which is meant to be something you can whip up in no time, with little fuss or forethought, and when you have very little in the pantry. It's a good dish, to be sure, but definitely not worth acting like you're searching for the cure for cancer.

Keep it simple. Keep it casual. And if you get to the point where you're researching the molecular structure of pecorino cheese, then we warmly suggest getting some fresh air.

With that said...

Perfect Cacio e Pepe

How to Make Perfect Cacio e Pepe

Forget radical approaches, clunky appliances and strange ingredients. Here are the simple steps that are needed in order to make perfect cacio e pepe the way it's meant to be prepared: simply and without any fuss.

  1. Finely grate the cheese. If the cheese is already clumpy before you even add it to the pasta, you're setting yourself up for failure. We recommend a microplane grater, which is honestly such a useful tool we think everyone should have one. In Italy cheeses are ALWAYS grated extremely fine.

  2. Use a mixture of half Pecorino Romano and half Parmigiano-Reggiano. This doesn't affect the final texture, but it does help with flavor if you don't have access to really excellent pecorino cheese from Italy. Outside of the Boot, even imported pecorino often lacks a lot of flavor and is just plain salty. Making a cheese mix can help get a rounder, fuller flavor if you don't have access to the best pecorino.

  3. Turn off the heat. As soon as the pasta is done boiling, turn off the heat under the pasta pot. We still want the pasta water for making the sauce, but we also don't want it to be boiling.

  4. Let the pasta cool. After finishing the pasta in the pan with the pepper sauce, turn off the heat and let it cool for 3 minutes. Don't worry, the final dish will still be plenty warm, but if we don't let it cool for a little while the cheese is sure to clump.

  5. Add the cheese very gradually. Sprinkle a light dusting of cheese on top of the pasta and add one or two spoonfuls of pasta water, then stir until the cheese has melted before repeating. The slower you go and the less cheese you add at a time, the less you'll risk the sauce breaking. If you take your time and go slowly, you'll be rewarded with a rich, creamy sauce without even needing to bust out the blender or cornstarch!


Makes: Two servings

Cook Time: 20 minutes

For this recipe, you will need:

  • 2 tablespoons (12 g) whole black peppercorns, or to taste

  • Salt

  • 5.5 ounces (160 g) spaghetti

  • 1 ounce (30 g) finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese, plus extra for topping (topping is optional)

  • 1 ounce (30 g) finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Put a large pot of water on to boil. While it heats, place the peppercorns in a large pan over medium/high heat. Toast the pepper for about 4 minutes, or until you can clearly smell the spice. Turn off the heat and transfer the peppercorns into a mortar and pestle. Coarsely grind the pepper and return it to the pan.

Salt the boiling water generously. Add the spaghetti and set a timer for 3 minutes less than the package-directed "al dente" cook time. Add 1-2 ladlefuls of the pasta water into the pepper pan. Bring the sauce to a simmer and let it cook while the pasta boils. Add more pasta water into the pan as necessary to maintain a simmer. Meanwhile, mix the pecorino and Parmigiano cheese together in a bowl.

When the timer goes off for the pasta, turn off the water heat (save the water, though) and use tongs or a spaghetti fork to transfer the pasta into the sauce. Add 2-3 more ladles of pasta water into the pan and bring to a simmer while stirring over high heat. Continue simmering the sauce until the pasta is al dente to your taste, adding a little more water as needed to maintain moisture in the pan.

Turn off the heat and let the pasta cool for 3 minutes. Then, sprinkle a light dusting of cheese over the pasta, add one or two spoonfuls of pasta water, and stir vigorously until the cheese evenly melts. Repeat these steps, adding a little bit of cheese and a little bit of pasta water until all of the cheese is melted into the sauce.

How to Add Cheese to Cacio e Pepe

Serve immediately, topped with a drizzle of the pan sauce and (optionally) a grating of pecorino cheese.

Buon appetito!

8 comentários

15 de ago. de 2023

I had a chunk of Caccio Roma from Eataly, and it came out nice and creamy. However, the extra-bold black peppercorns I usually buy from a high-quality spice seller were just a bit too assertive (hot). Either need a lot less of that kind, or a milder, fragrant, black peppercorn. The other tip, is use dry pasta that sheds a lot of starch. I bought some bronze-cut dry spaghetti from Italy and it made the sauce very smooth and creamy. Price only a little bit more than regular store-brand spaghetti.


Dianna Helm
Dianna Helm
27 de jul. de 2022

Ava please give us a good brand of pecorino.


24 de jan. de 2022

When Eva states say away from the Locatelli brand, she is spot on, the cheese tasted ok, but refused to make a creamy sauce, I tried a few times, more heat less heat did not matter, just could not get that cheese to join the party. it just stayed separate from the pasta water, and will not blend, not sure what brand to use? I ordered some dop pecorino remano with the white rind? Is that a better ?


05 de jan. de 2022

Like mac 'n cheese, only better! Grazie!


Carlos Brito Freitez
Carlos Brito Freitez
10 de out. de 2021

I try with Auricchio was good

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