Cacio e Pepe: the Step-By-Step Recipe for the Traditional Italian Creamy Pasta Dish

Total time: 30 mins.
Difficulty: Low
Serves: 4 people
By Cookist

Cacio e Pepe (which roughly translates to "cheese and pepper"), pronounced "KA-choh eh PEH-peh" is a famous main dish of Roman cuisine prepared with just 3 ingredients: long pasta, generally spaghetti or tonnarelli pasta, pecorino romano DOP cheese and black peppercorns. Creamy, rich and incredibly tasty despite its simplicity, it is known and loved throughout the world, now considered a true symbol of the Lazio tradition together with carbonara and amatriciana, with which it constitutes the so-called "holy trinity". Perfect for a quick lunch or a tasty dinner.

What is Cacio e Pepe?

Cacio e Pepe, a classic Roman pasta dish, has humble yet storied origins rooted in the Italian countryside. Translating to "cheese and pepper," it was traditionally a staple of shepherds who needed a simple, hearty meal during their long journeys. With just a few ingredients—Pecorino Romano cheese, black pepper, and pasta—shepherds could create a dish that was both filling and easy to prepare. Over time, this rustic recipe made its way into Roman trattorias, where it has been embraced as a quintessential comfort food, celebrated for its rich, creamy texture and robust flavor. Today, Cacio e Pepe remains a beloved symbol of Rome's culinary heritage.

Tips for The Best Cacio e Pepe Ever

  • Opt for authentic Pecorino Romano D.O.P. cheese and freshly ground black peppercorns. The quality of these ingredients makes a significant difference in the flavor. It is preferable to choose a medium-aged pecorino romano, since the higher percentage of water contained means that it dissolves more easily, while the pepper – black and in grains – must be freshly ground and toasted in a pan, so that it releases everything its aroma.
  • Cook the pasta in lightly salted water, but make sure to undercook it by about three minutes. This allows the pasta to finish cooking in the pan with the pepper, absorbing the flavors and achieving the perfect al dente texture.
  • Grate the Pecorino Romano finely and mix it with pasta water to create a smooth, lump-free cream. The water should be hot but not boiling to prevent the cheese from clumping.
  • When mixing the pasta with the cheese cream, ensure the heat is turned off. High heat can cause the cheese to seize up and become grainy. Gentle heat helps achieve a silky, creamy sauce.
  • If the sauce is too thick, add a bit more pasta cooking water gradually until you reach the desired consistency. The starchy water helps bind the sauce to the pasta, creating a cohesive dish.
  • Cacio e Pepe is best enjoyed immediately after preparation. The sauce can thicken as it cools, so have your plates ready and serve right away.

What's the Difference Between Carbonara and Cacio e Pepe?

Cacio e Pepe and Carbonara are both classic Roman pasta dishes, but this is where the similarities end. Cacio e Pepe is a simple yet flavorful dish made with just Pecorino Romano cheese, black pepper, and pasta, resulting in a creamy, peppery sauce. Carbonara, on the other hand, is richer and more complex, featuring eggs, Pecorino Romano (or sometimes Parmesan), guanciale (cured pork cheek), and black pepper. The eggs in Carbonara create a silky, luscious sauce that coats the pasta, while the guanciale adds a savory, meaty depth. In essence, Cacio e Pepe is celebrated for its minimalist elegance, whereas Carbonara offers a more indulgent and hearty experience.

Can I Substitute the Type of Cheese in The Pasta?

Yes, the cheese can be substituted, but it will alter the flavor. For Cacio e Pepe, you can use Parmesan instead of Pecorino Romano for a milder taste.

Can I Use a Different Type of Pasta?

Yes, you can. While traditional recipes call for spaghetti or tonnarelli, other pasta shapes like bucatini, fettuccine, or rigatoni can also work well, providing a slightly different texture and experience.

Can I Use Butter in The Recipe?

Traditionally, butter is not used in Cacio e Pepe. The creaminess comes solely from the Pecorino Romano cheese and starchy pasta water. However, some modern variations may include a small amount of butter to enhance the texture and flavor, though this is not considered authentic.

Why Did My Cheese Clump or Stick to The Pan?

The cheese might have clumped or stuck to the pan if the heat was too high when mixing it with the pasta or if the cheese was added too quickly. To prevent this, ensure the pan is off the heat and mix the cheese gradually with hot, but not boiling, pasta water to create a smooth sauce.

Can I Make This Ahead?

Cacio e Pepe is best enjoyed immediately after preparation, as the sauce can thicken and lose its creamy texture over time. Making it ahead is not recommended. 

Can I Freeze This Pasta Dish?

Freezing Cacio e Pepe is not recommended, as the sauce can separate and lose its creamy texture when thawed.

More Traditional Italian Recipes

Pasta alla Gricia

Spaghetti Amatriciana

Authentic Carbonara

Spaghetti Alla Nerano

Authentic Pasta Puttanesca

How to Store Cacio e Pepe

To store Cacio e Pepe, place any leftovers in an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 2 days. Reheat gently on the stove with a splash of water to help restore its creamy texture.


400 grams
Pecorino Romano cheese
250 grams
black peppercorns
7 grams

How to Make Cacio e Pepe

Prepare the black peppercorns.

Grind them in a pan and let them heat up.

When they release their aroma, add some water, stopping the cooking.

Throw the pasta into lightly salted water and cook it, draining it 3 minutes beforehand.

Place the pasta in the pan with the toasted peppercorns and continue cooking it.

Grate the pecorino cheese into a bowl.

Add some pasta water to it.

Mix the cheese and the water to create a cream.

When the spaghetti are cooked, turn off the heat and add the pecorino cream.

Mix well, add cooking water if necessary and create a nice cream.

Plate the spaghetti, adding more cream, grating some more pecorino cheese and sprinkling the top with ground black pepper. Enjoy!

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