Beyond the popular Parmesan, Gorgonzola or mozzarella, Italy produces a vast variety of cheeses worthy of the most selective palates. Castelmagno, Caciocavallo Gargano and Formaggio di Fossa are our recommendations this month.
By J.M. Towers
Thru the centuries, Italy has been the proud source of extraordinarily handmade cheeses from cow, goat and sheep's milk. Although we could name some of the most famous —Parmesan, Gorgonzola or Mozzarella—, other types also deserve the admiration of the most select palates for their organoleptic characteristics. Cheeses like Castelmagno, Caciocavallo Gargano and the Formaggio di Fossa are faithful exponents of one of the world’s greatest gastronomic traditions: Italian cuisine. More on Spanish and French cheeses.
This cow cheese with Protected Designation of Origin (P.O.D) is produced, since the 13th century, in the province of Cuneo, Piedmont. There is historical evidence that King Victor Amadeus II of Savoy asked that this cheese should be used to pay part of his feudal rights corresponding to the region. It is a pressed, hard or semi-hard blue cheese, of cylindrical shape with straight sides. The crisp crust is reddish yellow with some gray mold and yeast. Its compact paste has streaks of blue mold and herbaceous, spicy flavor. Perfect to end a good meal or as a base ingredient in gnocchi or risotto, it becomes a true delicacy when accompanied by a glass of Barbaresco wine.
Produced in Puglia, in southern Italy, Caciocavallo Gargano is a delicious cow's milk cheese with P.O.D. It originated in the Balkans, and owes its name to the fact that it was transported by the nomads from the Asian steppes tied to their horse`s saddles. Caciocavallo Gargano is a spun paste cheese, which means that after curdling, and right at the moment when the rennet is poured into the milk, it is allowed to set and cut into pieces before passing it under abundant hot water. It is at this point that the master cheese maker begins to work and virtually becomes a potter as the resulting dough is molded at will to give it its unmistakable shape. This cheese combines wonderfully with a great wine such as Gioia del Colle.
Formaggio di Fossa
Formaggio di Fossa is produced in the city of Sogliano, Emilia-Romagna. The history of this sheep cheese, prized by the Italians, dates back to 1486, when Alfonso of Aragon, son of the King of Naples, took refuge in a town of central Italy after being defeated by the French in battle. In their search for food, the troops began to plunder the peasants who hid their cheese in pits dug in the ground. This method proved to be ingenious and surprising because it increases the quality of the cheese by creating bacterial colonies that age it and give it a unique moss, and truffle flavor. Formaggio di Fossa is best when served with white wine aged in barrels, such as the Verdicchio Riserva and Rosso Conero. ■
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