A mountain cheese with DOP (AOP) protection from the areas of Veneto and Trentino Alto Adige. The name comes from the town of the same name which is the main area and the origin of the cheese. A firm cheese, almost the same texture as Parmigiano Reggiano, but only almost. When matured, it develops fine crystals that crunch between your teeth. Straw colored, firm and very compact texture. Some say it has small holes, never come across that. Matured from six months up to two years. The longer the ripening, the more developed flavor. Round and nice but very intense flavor that sits for a long time in the mouth. Maybe a hint of sharpness, only fascinating though, not anything that bites. You may feel a little salty sting. This is a cheese for a slice of good bread. Excellent for cooking as well.
To drink: Mature red wine, preferably Italian and Piedmont. A classy and well matured white will also do the trick.
A mountain cheese this as well, from the Brembana Valley Bergamo province up along the Swiss border. On September 21 the locals celebrate the cows coming down from the mountain. In many ways a traditional mountain ost. Firm and compact paste with oval holes. Varies in color, towards the white side in the winter time when the cows are fed hay, and more yellow in the summer when they graze on healthy and lush mountain grass. A raw and washed rind cow’s milk cheese with minimum maturity of 20 days. It is in my opinion not very long, so look for more matured ones. The taste is very neutral and fresh, but naturally becomes more intense with more time in the cellars.
To drink: Branzi prefers a little red wine in the glass, and then it’s possible to start with a Barbera and then continue on the Piedmontese quality ladder as the cheese becomes more and more mature.
A rather firm cheese from the southern parts of Italy including Sicily. There are a lot of different varieties around, most of them pasteurised. This is a pasta filata style cheese. The name means horse cheese and probably comes from the tradition where two cheeses were tied together and hung over a beam. Most cheeses are bell or drop shaped apart from the Sicilian variety which is rectangular. The two most interesting cheeses of this type is Caciocavallo Palermitano from Sicily, made from raw milk, using only traditional wooden cheese making equipment. Matured from two and up to twelve months, though some are eaten very fresh.
The other interesting Caciocavallo comes from the mainland and is called Caciocavallo Podolico. Made of milk from the Podoloca breed only, and in the areas of Calabria, Basilicata, Campania and Puglia. Although some are consumed rather fresh, most are matured for three to twelve months, but the real gems are kept for two to three years. Probably only available at the farms in the area.
To drink: Red wines from the Nero d’Avola or Aglianico grapes.
A cheese from Piemonte, the mountain range running along the French border. Not very common and similar to Bleu de Termignon from the French side of the border. The best cheese is labelled «Produtto della Montagna» or (even better) «di Alpeggio» if it is produced more than 1000 meters above sea level. Over time the cheese may develop internal blue veining. Some cheese makers will pierce the cheese to help the development of blue veins. Matured for a minimum of two months but often up to six. Small production so might be hard to find outside the local area.
Fontina Val d’Aosta
This is Val d’Aosta’s most famous cheese. Unpasteurized cow’s milk cheese. Must be characterized as semi-firm. Have DOP (AOP) protection. This is a farmstead cheese, artisanal or industrial. It is important to be on the alert so you get one of the two former. Industrially manufactured Fontina “is just another cheese”. Pale yellow paste with a nice piercing of rather small holes. Comes as wheels as most mountain cheeses do. Being widely used for cheese fondue. A farmstead or artisanal cheese have a slightly sharp scent but with a taste of nuts as is the case for many mountain cheeses. The cheese is made twice a day, so one from morning milk and one from evening milk.
To drink: If you use for a cheese fondue, it’s only white wine that applies. Otherwise you can drink both Pinot Noir and Barbera; more on the elegant side than the complex side. If you are in the area, you drink local wine, of course.
Italian cheese that in shape, texture and milk is very similar to Parmigiano Reggiano. Area of use for the two is also more or less the same. Grana Padano is perhaps the oldest hard cheese in Italy, first made made by Cistercian monks at the Chiaravalle monastery in the Milano area about 900 years ago. Made in three variants; Grana Padano matured for 9 to 16 months with a slightly «creamy» consistency and not very crumbly. Grana Padano oltre 16 mesi is more crumbly with a more outspoken flavour. Grana Padano Riserva is matured for minimum 20 months is the of the three that has most of everything.
Grana Padano has been a DOC cheese since 1955 and PDO (DOP) since 1996. Is made once a day from raw cow’s milk where the evening milk is skimmed, making the cheese rather lean as is the case for grana cheeses. A cheese for everyday use and cheaper than Parmigiano, but not necessaraily any poorer quality. It is made in a wide area in Northern Italy. Size is fra 24 to 40 kilos.
Grana Padano Trentingrana is a special variety having its own certification made in the province of Trento.
To drink: Very similar to Parmigiano Reggiano.
Blue Cheese from the Val di Susa in Piedmont along the French border. Produced only during the summer months when the cows and goats graze in the mountains. Can be made from cow’s milk or goat’s milk. A blue cheese without typical blue veins. More a faint blue fringing in an otherwise rather anemic Relatively firm cheese,cheese when it comes to color. Fairly dry texture but with a creamy expression in the mouth. Sharp in flavor and definitely a cheese for the connoisseur. A cheese that is best enjoyed in small quantities. Dry salted, making sure it is not as salty as many other blue cheeses. A relatively rare cheese.
To drink: A port will be just fine, Recioto della Valpolicella as well, and Amarone if you want drier but equally powerful wine.
Parmigiano Reggiano is a hard, crumbly cheese from unpasteurized skimmed milk from cows that are fed on grass and hay. Can only be produced in the area around Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena and Bologna (all in Emilia-Romagna), and Mantova in Lombardy. Also known as Parmesan colloquially. Parmigiano Reggiano DOP has protection from the EU (AOP). All cheeses are checked after one year of maturation, and those that are approved get a stamp. The others are sold as second class. The most common age is two years, but have personally tasted six years old. Intense sweet and nutty flavour. Parmigiano Reggiano is also much used for cooking. Grated. Parmigiano Reggiano is lactose free. Mainstream i Italy, fairly exotic in the rest of the world. Parmigiano Reggiano varies though. Most is mainstream, but there are a few variuants you shoud be on the look-out for. Red Cow; Vacche Rosse, one of the original breeds. Bianca Modenese – white cow – is another. The white cow is a cross breed with red cow. Then you have brown cow – Bruna Italiana. Originally Brown Swiss, but imported to Italy centuries ago. These breeds supply less milk, but much better suited for cheese making than the ordinary volume supplier; Holstein.
To drink: Some would say Nebbiolo or die. But good quality Barbera d’Asti or Chianti Classico will work wonderfully. I actually prefer to drink local, which means a Lambrusco. If you do not know Lambrusco, be aware they are slightly sparkling. Quality varies so look out for good ones. They should be dry.
A firm cheese of raw cow’s milk made in the Cueo province in Piemonte. To be branded Alpeggio the pastures where the herd feeds have to lie more than 900 meters above sea level. Rather rustic with a natural rind, Mucor, a rind that may appear quite frightening. For this cheese you’re better off cutting it away. Slightly crumbly, but the mouthfeel is till creamy. Maturation varies – it’s a mountain farm cheese after all – those matured for at least 6 months are the best, so look out for them. This is of course my opinion, you may view it differently, which is OK. Raschera is, by the way, what they call small mountain cabins in the Piemonte area.
A cheese made from skimmed cow’s milk. The milk was separated and the cream was used to churn butter. So Salva Cremasco is a cheese made from excess milk. Hence the name Salvatore coming of salvare (to save in Italian). they saved the surplus skimmed milk and made as a cheese from it. A DOP (AOP) cheese. hails from the area just east of Milan in southern Lombardy. Unpasteurised, but there is a pasteurised version too. Matured at least for 30 days, but can be matured up to a year. Compact, relatively dry, ivory coloured paste, almost without holes. A certain sharpness as young turning into a more rich and full flavor with age. Try a ripe pear with it. I was also recommended a chutney made of green tomatoes.
To drink: Dry, fruity white wine from northern Italy. For the beer hounds; Try a Lager.
From northern Italy, Lombardy to be more exact, but can also come from a wider area such as Piedmont and Veneto. From cow’s milk. The cheese is off-white in colour with a soft rind that looks pink dirty white with mildew stains if it has been stored for a while. Cut away these. The rest can certainly be eaten. A pure milk flavour, outspoken saltiness and with age also a nice touch of acidity. Available in both pasteurised and from raw milk, latte crudo. The raw milk variant is usually hand made and superior to the pasteurised industrial one (which is most common).
To drink: Drink red from the Valtellina valley, it’s on the other side of the mountain. Excellent wines made with Nebbiolo grapes.
Toma di Bettelmatt
A chalet cheese from raw cow’s milk as far north in Piedmont as you can get, Val Formazza in the province of Val d’Ossola. There are many chalets making cheese in this area, which they have kept doing for centuries. Production is fairly low, though. Toma di Bettelmatt, which is made by the farmers in Val Formazza is commonly regarded as the best. A summer cheese, made only during a short summer season, and in limited numbers. It is matured for approximately 60 days before it’s carried to the market. Light yellow colour, compact texture with a few eyes, even though this may vary depending on which chalet has made the cheese. The size of the wheels may also vary. Toma di Bettelmatt always has a burned mark into the rind to show it is real. A bit dry on the palate, and taste of herbs and a touch of barn. Some say the taste stems from the herb Mottolina (Ligusticum mutellina) that only grows in this area, but there does not have to be a connection.
To drink: For the red wine lovers this; preferably Barolo.
Torta di Peghera
Semi-soft raw or termised washed rind cheese from cow’s milk made on small farms in Val Taleggio, Lombardy. Pale golden thin rind with hints of orange colour. Touch of barnyard aroma. Rich flavour, but not pungent. Long lasting in the mouth. Nice acidity. Serve with onion marmalade. Use melted on polenta, but also good as it is with bread. Quite oily cheese with its 54 % fat in dry matter. Matured at least 45 days. Cylindrical in shape and weighs in at 2.4 kg.
To drink: White wines from the Voignier or Arneis grapes. Reds from Valtellina.
A fine chèvre style cheese from the area surrounding the town of Castelmagno in the province of Cueno. takes a couple of hours drive southwest from Alba. Semi firm and creamy texture. Hvite paste and natural rind. Wonderful taste of milk and and a beautiful sweetness appears. Is made by the La Poiana cooperative. Sylinder shaped weighing in at about half a kilo. As far as I know you have to pay Alba or its surroundings a visit to get it.
Robiola di Roccaverano
An old cheese this Italian goat cheese. For that’s what it is, although it also comes as a blend of cow, sheep and goat. Known as early as 300 years BC. As a curiosity it can be mentioned that Pliny who died in 79 AD, appreciated this cheese. From the Langhe area of Piedmont. Have DOP (AOP) protection, so have the blends so it is important to read the label. 2 latti, 3 latti etc. I prefer the pure goat cheese, milk from goats that are fed only on fresh grass. Pasteurised and skimmed goat’s milk, so it’s here only because it is such a delight. In season from February/March to October. Handcrafted on small farms while the blended ones are made at large dairies. Great goat flavour with pronounced acidity which is rounded off by ripening and the flavour becomes more barnyard and “old goat”. Soft ivory coloured rind, that reddens with age. Often eaten with some extra virgin olive oil and fresh figs. Also good with walnut and raisin bread.
To drink: A dry, fresh, white wine from the Langhe area. A lager for the beer freaks.
Robiola di Capra
Aka La Rossa because it is wrapped cherry leaves with a red strip to keep the leaves in place. Comes from the Cueno province in Piemonte where it is made at various farm dairies. From raw goat’s milk and made during the period February/March through October. Matured for at least 20 days but oftentimes longer. The last one I tasted had matured for about two months, was mature with an impeccable taste. Rind is white with red-brown spots, Geotrichum.
To drink: Fruity whites. Lager if beer is your thing.
Hard sheep’s milk cheese. Originally from Sardinia. Available in four varieties. From Sardinia comes Pecorino Sardo. The most famous is Pecorino Romano, which is largely produced in Sardinia, but also in Lazio and Tuscan Grosseto. Then there is Pecorino Toscano from Tuscany, and finally Pecorino Siciliano from Sicily. All are PDO cheeses. Three maturity levels: Fresco, semi-stagionato and stagionato as the most mature and hardest. In addition, countless blends of herbs and spices. A weird variety is with living fly larvae in the cheese. It can be found on Sardinia, not allowed to sell to the public though. Hard to find unpasteurised, if at all possible, but there are many pasteurised varieties on the market.
To drink: Mature reds from Tuscany.
This variant is made with milk from ewes that have to be born and bred in Sicily. Made in wooden vats at farm dairies or small artisan dairies. PDO protected and annual production is about 40 tonnes. Minimum matured for 4 months, but often for longer.
This cheese is from the north western parts of the Basilicata region, so we are quite far south. Raw ewe’s milk of course and PDO protected. Made in copper vats on farms dairies. Breed is typical mediterranean sheep. Two varieties; Semistagionato and Stagionato, the latter matured the longest.
Pecorino dei Monti Sibillini
From the Marche region made with raw milk up in the mountains using old traditional cheese making methods, among other thing a mix of animal and vegetarian rennet to create a curd that is as firm as possible. This cheese has a Slow Food Presidium.
From Sardinia, but this is a different cheese to Pecorino Sardo even though they are often perceived as the same cheese with different names. Contrary to Pecorino Sardo the Fiore Sardo is PDO protected and made with raw milk. This cheese may be smoked or unsmoked. I prefer the unsmoked.
Formaggio di Pecora di Bitti
This is a farm cheese from Bitti in the Nuoro area about half way slightly towards the eastern coast. Not a very old cheese. Raw ewe’s milk of course. matured for a minimum of 30 days, starting out quite soft and hardens with longer maturation. Animal flavour with a sharp spicy sting. Sylinder shaped and from tre to four kilos.
Pecorino dell’Alta Baronia
Baronia is an area to the north-east of Sardinia, not too far away from Bitti. A rather young cheese from a historic perspective. Originally the shepherds herded goats and made goat cheeses in this area. Today the ewes and correspondingly Pecorino rule. Farm cheese, raw milk and a Slow Food Presidium cheese. Sylindrical but with a wide variation in size as the cheese can be anything from 3 to 10 kilos. Minimum maturation is 2 months. Some cheeses matured longer is smeared with local olive oil. Rind is hard, cheese compact with a few scattered holes, otherwise semi firm as young and harder with age, naturally. Flavour on the sweet side with some spicy kicks. Aroma is vegetal from all the Mediterranean scrub the ewes feed on. There is some barm aromas as well. made from December to June.
In general, Pecorino is a semi firm cheese while young but gets considerably firmer with age. Seems like most Pecorinos exported are hard and as such well matured. The more mature the more saltiness in the cheese as well, and some Pecorinos can be rather too salty for some.
To drink: If you are looking for one wine to fit all a red from Tuscany will be a safe bet, from Bolgheri if you’re in for a Super Tuscan. For the young cheeses a white will work well, have you tried white from the Pecorino grape. Pecorino on the plate, Pecorino in the glass. If you happen to be in Italy, do drink local wines.
Bitto, or Formaggio Valli del Bitto cheese is from the Valtelline Valley in Lombardy. Taking its name from the River Bitto which flows through the valley. Have DOP (AOP) protection. Made only in summer when the cattle graze in the mountains. The main ingredient is raw cow’s milk but 10 to 20% raw goat’s milk should be added. Important that Valli del Bitto is pinter on the rind. Stores incredibly well, up to 10 years. Winter cheese is called Valtellina Casera. Relatively rare.
To drink: Mature Barolos.
Testun Foglia di Castagno
A Piedmontese cheese made of goat’s and cow’s milk. Probably most cow’s milk. Wrapped in chestnut leaves and matured in oak barrels for three years. This means that it has a wonderful, sweet and nutty flavor. It becomes slightly bluish without it being prominent. It is defined as a firm but it is creamy firm, and it melts on the tongue. Just to enjoy. Can be difficult to find.
To drink: A good, ripe Piemontese. I would prefer Barolo from the top shelf, but a good Barbaresco will of course also be amazing.