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)


Why is my Cacio e Pepe sauce not creamy? ›

Tips for Making Cacio e Pepe

Let the pasta cool slightly—Ripping hot pasta plus finely shredded or grated cheese inevitably yields a clumpy sauce. Letting the pasta cool for 2 minutes before tossing ensures a perfectly creamy sauce.

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.

What makes Cacio e Pepe so good? ›

Translated from Italian, cacio e pepe means cheese and black pepper. The allure of a dish made with so few ingredients is indeed rooted in its simplicity, in its intensity of flavors and textures. When made just right, the cheese melts into the reserved pasta water and clings to the pasta, creating a creamy sauce.

What is the best pasta for Cacio e Pepe? ›

Pasta: Tonnarelli is the traditional pasta for Cacio de Pepe but you may use easier to find spaghetti or bucatini.

What is the secret of cacio e pepe? ›

Don't overheat the sauce.

If you've ever had the cheese clump up or stick to the pan when making cacio e pepe (very common, but always such a tragedy!), it was likely due to the cheese being overheated. Be absolutely sure that the burner is turned off below the sauté pan with the melted butter.

How do you keep pasta sauce creamy? ›

There are three absolutely vital steps to emulsifying any kind of pasta sauce: reserving some pasta water, introducing fat slowly, and providing some kind of agitation — which in this context means lots of stirring/mixing/flipping, not general frustration with the state of the world (although cooking is a great outlet ...

Why Cacio e Pepe is so hard to perfectly execute? ›

But it is extremely hard to execute well because you need to control the heat. The cheese will become stringy if you heat up your pan too much (above 70 °C or 158 °F). I tested all the methods, so you do not need to! Cacio e Pepe is rare in restaurants because it is hard to serve warm without the corn starch trick.

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).

Does Cacio e Pepe contain butter? ›

Pasta Cacio e Pepe

This iconic pasta is a minimalist recipe — flavored with just butter, salt, cracked pepper, and Pecorino cheese. It's perfect for a quick, unfussy supper.

Is pecorino or Parmesan better for Cacio e Pepe? ›

Classic versions call for just pasta, salted water, freshly ground pepper, and Pecorino Romano, a Roman sheep's milk cheese. Ours tosses a bit of Grana Padano or Parmesan into the mix for a more rounded cheese flavor that melds warmth, nuttiness, and sharpness.

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 does Cacio e Pepe mean in english? ›

Cacio e pepe literally translates to “cheese and pepper." These two ingredients are usually thought of as small components to a dish but in this pasta recipe, they take center stage.

How do you use jarred Cacio e Pepe sauce? ›

Cook your preferred pasta in plenty of salted water. In the meantime, pour the jar of Cacio e Pepe Sauce into a non-stick pan and cook on a low heat. One jar contains enough sauce for 6–7 portions. Any leftover sauce can be stored in the fridge to be used next time.

Should Cacio e Pepe be salty? ›

Authentic Cacio e Pepe DIRECTIONS

Bring to a boil and season lightly with salt – not too much, as the pecorino is quite salty.

How do you thicken Cacio e Pepe sauce? ›

- 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).

Why is my pasta sauce not creamy? ›

Because the consistency of your sauce is so thin, it might as well be water. This could happen when you add too much pasta water into your sauce, and you accidentally drown the thick sauce with the starchy water (happens to the best of us).

Why is my mac and cheese sauce not creamy? ›

Add more cheese

Many store-bought shredded cheese brands coat their cheese with an anti-caking agent than can make sauces grainy and less creamy. While it requires a bit of an arm workout, grating your own yields the best texture.

Why isn't my pasta sauce creamy? ›

You can add some cream, cheese and also a little boiled water in which the pasta was cooked. Adding all these elements will give your pasta sauce a thick and creamy structure.

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