My must-have recipe for a delicious cacio e pepe (and how to make your sauce super smooth!) - Mama Loves Rome (2024)

How to make the perfect cacio e pepe: easy recipe with the one trick you need to know for the perfect cheese sauce and an authentic Italian taste.

Cacio e pepe is one of the most traditional and famous dishes in Rome and one of the tastiest.

It is also one of the simplest, in terms of ingredients.

As the name suggests, this pasta dish is basically made of 2 ingredients,cacio(cheese) andpepe(black pepper), but two ingredients that are so tasty and so perfectly balanced when cooked the right way, you will think you are tasting a much more complex creation!

This doesn’t mean however that makingcacio e pepeis as simple as grating some cheese on top of your pasta.

If you have tried to make it at home and found yourself in front of a clumpy mess rather than a smooth sauce, you may already know what I mean!

The road to the perfect cacio e pepe is littered with failed attempts and I have myself failed to get it right many times, until I finally understood the mistake I was making.

To make smoothcacio e pepeyou need to know one trick, without which the laws of physics are against you. Literally!

If you are not sure what physics has to do with pasta and how you can harness the laws of chemistry to make a perfectly smooth sauce, read on!

My must-have recipe for a delicious cacio e pepe (and how to make your sauce super smooth!) - Mama Loves Rome (1)

Ingredients for cacio e pepe

To make cacio e pepe, you need the following ingredients:

  • Pasta trafilata al bronzo (bronze cut pasta): 80 to 100gm per person if serving as a main
  • Water + salt for boiling: a generous pot that can contain the water and the pasta with space to spare. For one/ two people I use a Le Creuset Dutch over with a base of 18cm diameter
  • Black pepper grains to taste
  • Pecorino Romano (cacio): 50gm

You will also need some basic kitchen utensils:

  • A pot for boiling your pasta water
  • A large pan
  • Kitchen thongs (or similar: you will need them to get the pasta out of the water)
  • A heat resistant bowl
  • A kitchen whip
  • A cheese grater
My must-have recipe for a delicious cacio e pepe (and how to make your sauce super smooth!) - Mama Loves Rome (2)

Cacio e pepe: process

Fill your pot with clean water, add salt, put onto the heat and bring to a boil

When boiling, put the pasta in and mix well so it doesn’t stick together

While the pasta boil, take a heat resistant bowl and grate the pecorino cheese in it. With a ladle, add some of the pasta water to the bowl and mix well with the aid of a kitchen whip.

Add as much water as you need to make the cream smooth. If in doubt, err on the side or dry rater than too watery: it will correct itself when you add the pasta!

The cheese cream should Ben ready in a matter of minutes, a little sooner than your pasta.

Use this spare time to get ready for the final step.

Get a large pan and put it on a hob: heat it up and add the pepper so it starts heating up. Add a little bit of the pasta water so it doesn’t stick.

As soon as the pasta is al dente, With the aid of kitchen thongs or a teether spoon, move it from the pot to the pan and mix with the pepper. Finally add the cream cheese and mix until it is coated fully.

Serve hot!

My must-have recipe for a delicious cacio e pepe (and how to make your sauce super smooth!) - Mama Loves Rome (3)

The cooking process: a couple of tips

The process to make cacio e pepe is made of a couple of steps, that have to do with the separate making of the pasta and the sauce.

Tip one: The pasta for this recipe is not cooked the traditional way but rather, you start it in a pot and then transfer onto a pan for mixing with the sauce.

This is a process common to many dishes and the key to its success is to take the pasta from the pot when it is a little more al dente than usual.

The pasta will keep cooking while in the pan with the cheese, so you want to make sure it is not already fully done or it will be overlooked and sticky mess!

Tip two: The second step is making the sauce, which you make mine pecorino and the cooking water of the pasta: nothing else!

My must-have recipe for a delicious cacio e pepe (and how to make your sauce super smooth!) - Mama Loves Rome (4)
My must-have recipe for a delicious cacio e pepe (and how to make your sauce super smooth!) - Mama Loves Rome (5)
My must-have recipe for a delicious cacio e pepe (and how to make your sauce super smooth!) - Mama Loves Rome (6)

A few key things to keep in mind when cooking this dish:

  1. You must use he pasta water! The cooking water is the key to a successful cheese sauce: without it, it will simply not come together (see below) as the water has starch from the pasta and this will be like the glue that makes your cheese creamy
  2. You want to only start the sauce when the pasta is already cooking. The sauce won’t stay smooth for long so this is very much a last-minute job. What you can and should do in advance is grating your pecorino, so you already start from a nice powdery cheese.

What is the best pasta for cacio e pepe?

When choosing the best pasta for this recipe, you should look at two things: the pasta shape and the method of production.

When it comes to shape, always go for long pasta! Spaghetti and tonnarelli are the most traditional shapes but linguine and other shapes are perfect too.

When it comes to the method of production, ideally you want pasta that says on the packet ‘trafilata al bronzo’, kit ‘bronze but’.

Trafilata al bronzo is a technical term that has got to do with the creation of the pasta in the factory and is different from other pasta only in the sense that it is more rugged and rough.

It is a more porous type of pasta than the normal one and makes it easier for the sauce to stick to it.

Good to know: if you cannot get bronze cut pasta, don’t worry! Normal pasta is also ok for this recipe. Just make sure it is long (no penne or fusilli etc) to stay close to the tradition and get the best taste.

My must-have recipe for a delicious cacio e pepe (and how to make your sauce super smooth!) - Mama Loves Rome (7)

What cheese to use? What type of cheese is cacio?

The best cheese for cacio e pepe is pecorino Romano however, you are unlikely to find this in the shops with this name.

Pecorino Romano/cacio is a semi-hard sheep cheese, salty in taste and quite dry, original from the countryside around Rome and perfect for grating.

It is the star ingredient for this recipe however, should it prove impossible to find, you can make a variation of this dish using parmesan.

It will not be the same, the taste of the parmesan being quite different from that of pecorino.

However, you can follow the same process and get a tasty dish so if parmesan is all you have, you can still use the instructions in this article.

How do I keep cacio e pepe from clumping?

The big enemy of any cacio e pepe dish is the infamous clumping of the cheese. It is the death of the dish and one of those things that will simply ruin your dinner since once the cheese is in clumps, it stays that way!

However, there is a trick to avoid the disaster and this is where physics come into play.

If you use boiling water from the kettle to melt your cheese, clumps are inevitable. Hard cheeses have a certain molecular structure that doesn’t react well to hot water and prevents them from melting into a sauce.

To avoid clumps, you need to use the cooking water of your pasta! The cooking water, thanks to the pasta starch, changes the way the cheese melts and creates a perfectly smooth cheese sauce!

The trick to the perfect cacio e pepe is using the pasta water. If you use plain boiling water, no matter how quickly or how long you mix, the sauce will simply not come together. With the right water, it is done in less than a minute!

My must-have recipe for a delicious cacio e pepe (and how to make your sauce super smooth!) - Mama Loves Rome (8)

What goes well with cacio e pepe? Meal idea

How about making cacio e pepe part of a Rome-themed dinner? Things that go well with this pasta are:

  • Jewish style artichokes (starter)
  • Veal saltimbocca (meat)
  • Puntarelle salad
  • Tiramisu’ (dessert)

I hope you enjoyed this recipe and it helped you master the art of the authentic cacio e pepe, Rome style. Happy cooking!


My name is Marta, I am a travel-loving mama born and bred in that messy, wonderful, infuriating, awe-inspiring unbelievably beautiful city that is Rome. A classics graduate and professional travel blogger, on this site I share my insider tips to help you plan your dream trip to Rome, Italy.

My must-have recipe for a delicious cacio e pepe (and how to make your sauce super smooth!) - Mama Loves Rome (2024)


What is cacio e pepe sauce made of? ›

Traditionally, cacio e pepe (pronounced: kaa-chee-ow ee peh-pay) is made with just three ingredients: aged pecorino Romano cheese, freshly ground black pepper, and pasta, usually spaghetti; plus the starchy water from cooking the noodles. You don't have to go to Rome to enjoy cacio e pepe.

How to emulsify cacio e pepe sauce? ›

The first problem is easy to fix: Just add more water to the mix. Using the water you've cooked your pasta in is especially effective, as it adds starch, which can help to thicken and emulsify the sauce.

Why is cacio e pepe so hard to make? ›

That said, as simple as the cacio e pepe ingredient list may be, this dish is famously finicky when it comes to technique. If the cheese is overheated or the starchy pasta water isn't emulsified properly, the sauce can turn into a sticky, clumpy mess, which I can vouch from experience is always such a tragedy.

What is the secret of cacio e pepe? ›

The secret, in addition to the chemical combination of water and Pecorino proteins to obtain a cream without lumps, lies in the flavor: whole peppercorns crushed the same day and plunged into the pan to toast releasing all their pungent aroma; the pasta whisked slowly and in a controlled way to absorb all the taste of ...

Can I use Parmesan instead of Pecorino for cacio e pepe? ›

Opt for Parmesan: You can use Parmesan instead of Pecorino Romano, or even combine the two for a unique cheese profile. However, Parmesan isn't as salty or tangy as Pecorino Romano, so you may need to add more to get the sharpness that cacio e pepe is known for.

What pasta is best for Cacio e Pepe? ›

Spaghetti: Cacio e Pepe is traditionally made with some kind of long pasta (noodle); I like to use spaghetti but I've also seen it with bucatini, linguine, fettuccine, and even tagliatelle. You can use either dry or fresh pasta.

What pairs best with Cacio e Pepe? ›

Look no further than Chianti Classico for a classic red pairing. While most people associate this wine with flavorful meats like Florentine steak, the sharpness of the cacio e pepe holds its own and makes Chianti an unexpected accompaniment.

How do you thicken Cacio e Pepe? ›

- Add a little more pasta water than you think you need (the pasta will continue to soak it up and the sauce will thicken on your plate).

What are the ingredients in Trader Joe's cacio e pepe sauce? ›

Ingredients. Water, pecorino romano cheese (sheep's milk, sea salt, animal rennet), sunflower seed oil, modified cornstarch, ground black pepper, sodium citrate, xanthan gum, sea salt.

How do you use jarred cacio e pepe sauce? ›

Directions: Shake before opening. Heat and serve with pasta, meats or seafood. Heat sauce on stovetop or microwave.

How do you make emulsified sauce? ›

These sauces are prepared by emulsifying melted butter or oil into egg yolks, through rapidly whisking the ingredients, to break the butter or oil into tiny droplets that are held in suspension by lecithin in the yolks.

How to not break cacio e pepe sauce? ›

The trick is to toss the cheese with starch before heating it. As the starch heats up and gels, it stabilizes the cheese so it won't break. I tried the method for this Cacio e Pepe, which makes for a durable sauce that doesn't break even after raising the temperature until the sauce boils (usually a mortal sin).

What does cacio e pepe mean in Italian? ›

Cacio e pepe means 'cheese and pepper' in several central Italian dialects. In keeping with its name, the dish contains grated pecorino romano and black pepper, together with tonnarelli or spaghetti.

What does cacio mean in Italian? ›

[ˈkatʃo ] Word forms: cacio, plural caci. masculine noun. cheese.

Is cacio e pepe the same as alfredo sauce? ›

Cacio e pepe is made by emulsifying pasta water with grated cheese and black pepper. It clumps so easily. Alfredo has an image problem. Americans think of it as pasta draped in a cream sauce made of heavy cream and cheese, but the original version is thinner and creamy from an emulsion of butter and grated cheese.

What is a good substitute for cacio e pepe cheese? ›

Cacio e Pepe Variations

Pecorino Romano is a hard, Italian sheep's milk cheese. It has sharp, rich nutty flavor, making it the perfect cheese for this simple pasta dish. If you don't have it or can't find it Parmigiano-Reggiano is a totally acceptable alternative.

What is special about Cacio e Pepe? ›

But what makes cacio e pepe so special, you might ask? It's all in the technique. The key to a perfect cacio e pepe is getting the right consistency for the sauce. It should be creamy and smooth, but not too thick - the cheese and pepper should coat the pasta, but not clump together.


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