Lombardia Cheese

Taleggio DOP Quarter
Taleggio DOP Quarter – Photo © Dominik Hundhammer

Taleggio DOP

Taleggio shares a history with Gorgonzola in that it was also originally a product of the tired or stracca cattle that needed to be milked after returning from the long climbs down from summer pastures. The making of Taleggio is believed to go back to the tenth or eleventh century, with the first documents mentioning the cheese, along with grana, in the year 1200. However, until the early 1900’s it was simply called ‘stracchino’: a name which is still used, especially in Lombardy, and which defines not so much a specific cheese, as the large family of soft, square-shaped cheeses very popular in the region. The rind in an intense burnished orange-brown color with several molds and the stamp indicating it is a true Taleggio. It is a wonderfully distinctive cheese with a wide range of flavors including a meaty richness, accented with yeasty, fruity qualities And a tangy, salty bite. When ripe it should be creamy with a dry, but not cracked rind. And has a very pungent arom.

With over a century of history, this fine DOP cheese is still enjoyed today at dinner tables throughout Italy Italians are true traditionalists, both at the table and in life. However, looking back at the country’s long cultural and culinary history, one will find aspects that say a great deal about how fond the inhabitants of the bel paese are in the delicacies found on their dinner tables. Especially if a food is tasty and well satisfies the palate before filling the stomach. On the other hand, what other explanation could be given to explain how a product created over ten centuries ago could still be commonly found on the dinner tables of today’s Italians? Taleggio cheese, whose origins date back to before the 10th Century AD, peacefully continues to satisfy countless admirers. This might be thanks to its creamy consistency, its deliciousness and its versatility, given that it can be eaten as it is, accompanied by fresh fruit at the end of a meal or even used as a key ingredient in baked gratine dishes or as a condiment in pastas and risottos (it’s a must in the quattro formaggi cheese sauce used for the famous pasta called gnocchi).

Its native land is Val Taleggio, in the northern province of Bergamo. It was here that cattle breeders began to use their spare cow’s milk to make a cheese that was aged in grottos before being consumed. A number of documents from the 1200s mention trade between producers in the higher lands and merchants in the lower plains, who immediately began to appreciate this cheese’s softness and taste, and then made it known among their “city” clients. Following this, over the course of its long history, the production of Taleggio made its way from the valleys of Bergamo to the Padana plain. In fact, today the entire region of Lombardy and parts of Piedmont and the Veneto are included in the official production area. In 1988 Taleggio was granted DOP status, meaning that it is a representative part of the Italian culinary culture and enjoys EC protection against imitations.

Taleggio DOP cheeses weigh between 1.7 to 2.2 kg and have a characteristic parallelepiped form. The rind, which pinkish in color, contains specks of mold, while the cheese itself is consistent, softer near the rind and more compact in the center, with a color that ranges from white to straw- colored. Its sweetness comes out clearly, with a faint hint of acidity and a slightly aromatic scent. One of the little-known characteristics of Taleggio DOP is that it is a “live” cheese. After the 35-40 days of aging required before being sold, the cheese continues to mature. It can last for weeks in the refrigerator if properly wrapped in a damp cloth that allows for constant air flow.
Courtesy of sanpellegrino.com

Country: Italy
Region: Bergamo, Brescia, Como, Cremona, Lodi, Milano,Pavia, Treviso, Novara
Milk: Cow
Rind: Washed rind, reddish orange with brown mold
Aging: Cave-aged about 2 months
Recommended wines: Volpicella; Red Franciacorta, Oltrepo’ Pavian, Pinot Nero, Piave Merlot, and Red Piceno; Pilsne
Consistency:Creamy, supple texture
Taste: Unusual, yeasty flavor; mild and buttery, becoming fuller and tangier with age

Gorgonzola – Photo © ilnord.it

Gorgonzola DOP

One gorgonzola legend is an example of mistake leading to the invention of a cheese that has become very long-lived. The story claims that an innkeeper in the town of Gorgonzola had too much Stracchino cheese (made from the tired or stracca cows returning to the valleys from mountain pastures) that didn’t get used up quickly enough. After developing mold on and throughout the cheese, he questioned whether they were still any good. Unable to absorb the potential loss, he served the cheese anyway. Coincidentally, the customers liked it so much, they had to increase production and give them time to mold. A more likely history is that the overall production from the stracca cows was too much milk to hold, so it was made into cheese and stored in caves where they would naturally go blue over time.

The method (still used today) starts with producing curd from an evening milking, allowing it to settle overnight and topping it with curd from the morning milking. Cheeses are now pierced to accelerate the veining (referred to as parsley or erborinato) of the Penicillium glaucom bacteria. Gorgonzola is a dolce-style cheese, with a wet, fragile rind. It is round and creamy with a relatively mild, sweet flavor. gorgonzola cheese “Piccante”  is an aged version also referred to as naturale, stagionato or mountain Gorgonzola. It is firm and crumbly with a dry, thick rind and sharp flavor.

Country: Italy
Region: Lombardy
Milk: Cow
Rind: Washed rind, foil wrapped blue cheese
Aging: About 2 months
Recommended wines: Robust, yeasty ales; Trappist ales; Sauternes; Bordeaux
Consistency: Soft and cream
Taste: Mild and sweet