Valmarecchia: from “formaggio di fossa” to the mystery of bread

Formaggio di fossa with walnuts - Photo © blackbirdboy
Formaggio di fossa with walnuts – Photo © blackbirdboy

Valmarecchia is a particular gastronomic region of the Marche Region. In particular, the famous “formaggio di fossa” is produced in S. Agata Feltria and Talamello, where this cheese is called “Ambra”.

“Formaggio di fossa” (Pit cheese) is a pecorino cheese aged in the pits which were once used for food conservation: a sort of magical rite which begins with the preparation of the pits by burning straw in them to reduce the accumulated humidity, and which continues with the burying of the cheeses which ripen there until November.

The result is “Formaggio di fossa”, a cheese with a persistent olfactory quality and a particular aroma, a strong flavor, which is sharp but with a mellow quality.

Excellent served with fruit preserves or with honey, the formaggio di fossa is a dish of great class which should be accompanied by full bodied red wines rich in tannin.

The origin of the “formaggio di fossa” date back to medieval times, when the people living on the Appennini mountain, tired of always losing their crops and cheese to whatever invading foreign army was passing by, started to dig pits, in which they put their cheeses.

They discovered that doing so, not only preserved the cheeses from the invading armies (the pits were very well disguised) but the cheese was getting much better thanks to a microclimate that developed in the pits with the cheese and the straw used to separate one form of cheese from another.

Today the same technique is still used to produce the “formaggio di fossa”, this time to export it all over the world.

But, this is also known as the “bread valley”. Five kilometers from Novafeltria we find the village of Maiolo, also famous for delicious goat’s milk cheeses. At the end of June, the village comes alive with the Bread Festival; once upon a time, there were no less than seventy wood burning ovens here, several of which are still used by local families.

San Giuliano

This tradition is also strong in Casteldelci where you can still find an extraordinary bread baked in wood burning ovens. In addition to the well-known pecorino cheese celebrated with a Festival in the month of May, the surrounding areas are also known for raveggiolo, a soft, white fresh cheese made by a few skilled shepherds.

The town of Madonna di Pugliano is known for its naturally bred poultry of rare quality. Continuing inland, the center of Villagrande di Montecopiolo is known for the production of local meats from the Marche, as well as the typical Montefeltro flat white pizza baked in the local bread bakeries, one of the specialties of this area rich in uncontaminated pastures.

This is a characteristic in common with Pennabilli and Molino di Bascio, where it is still possible to find excellent bird game meats.

A visit to Pennabilli cannot but include a visit to its bakeries and mills which still grind flour from local cereals which are the main ingredient of the local bread as well as of the traditional Easter loaf.

Lamb and kid are specialties of the area surrounding S. Leo; in the outlying countryside there are farms known for the production of goat’s milk cheese. The shops of the historical castle sell excellent prosciuttos cured with aromatic herbs to make them more flavorful, and cheeses ripened in walnut leaves, while the village restaurants offer a knowing selection of locally produced cured meats as well as tasty traditional dishes dedicated to Count Cagliostro, like pasticciata, pot roast of beef in a savory gravy.