Cacio e pepe: thing or not a thing?

Published on 27 May 2019

Photo: Cacio e pepe at Lello Pasta Bar

In the latest Thing or Not A Thing, our column analysing the food trends of the moment, we look at the classic Roman pasta dish cacio e pepe. What is it about those glossy strands of bucatini that gives us pause in our online scrolling every single time?

Cheese, pepper, pasta and water. It’s not a list of rations; it’s the sum total of the pasta dish of the moment, cacio e pepe. Roman in origin, cacio e pepe (“cheese and pepper”) is the latest breakout dish of the Italian capital, which also brought us such long-standing favourites such as carbonara and Amatriciana. But in the last couple of years, it’s cacio e pepe that has taken over Instagram feeds and Reddit threads, and appeared on menus around the world, from London to Los Angeles, Sydney and, perhaps most especially, Melbourne.

Rosetta's cacio e pepe

The cheesy, peppery pasta has been spotted at Bar Liberty, with semolina added to the pasta water, at Park Street Pasta and Wine in South Melbourne, where mafaldine is the pasta of choice rather than the more common spaghetti or bucatini comma and at Rosetta, where the spin involves strozzapretti, a medium-length pasta with rolls and folds in it to better catch the smooth sauce.

Lello Pasta Bar in the CBD has an original take that borrows from several Italian regional cuisines. Flour made from scorched grain imported from Puglia is used to make Campanian-style maccheroni, loose pasta tubes that hold more sauce and, thanks to the burnt grain, have a lingering taste similar to barley.

“I really wanted to show off the grain,” explains chef-owner Leonardo Lello. “I thought that with cacio e pepe, it would marry quite well.”

But Melbourne’s obsession with the sauce doesn’t stop with pasta. At Brunswick East wine bar Etta, chef Charley Snadden-Wilson has gone the unorthodox route of serving a cacio e pepe butter with his sourdough, a move that is sure to enrage purists but makes for great snacking.


Sourdough that accompanies Etta's version of Cacio e Pepe
Etta's cacio e pepe butter with sourdough

Does this explosion of interpretations mean that cacio e pepe has jumped the shark? Are we at peak-pepe, headed for cacio saturation point? That is the natural law of trends. But even if we (somehow) move on from the holy grail of cheese pastas, it’ll still be there on Roman tables, day in, day out. And that’s no bad thing.

The verdict: Thing.

Get your taste at:

Bar Liberty, 234 Johnston St, Fitzroy,

Etta, 60 Lygon St, Brunswick East,

Lello Pasta Bar, 150 Flinders La, Melbourne,

Park Street Pasta and Wine, 268 Park St, South Melbourne,

Rosetta, Crown Towers, 8 Whiteman St, Southbank,

By Emma Breheny