“Formaggio di fossa” (Pit cheese) is a cheese aged in the pits which were once used for food conservation: a sort of magical rite which begins in August with the preparation of the pits by burning the straw in the pit to reduce the accumulated humidity.
The various forms of cheeses are placed in the straw lined holes having been wrapped in cotton cloth, after which the cheese is buried to reach a certain maturity in early November.
They are then sealed in with a wooden cover which is closed with a lining of chalk. The cheese is recovered in November wonderfully mature.
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, documents of the XVth Century give tangible evidence of the use of this method at those times: in the year 1486 Alfonso d’Aragona, defeated by the French troops, was hosted by Girolamo Riario, “signore” of Forlì. But the resources were scarce, and the Aragonesi soldiers started depredating the farmers, who, tired of always losing their crops and cheeses to whatever invading foreign army was passing by, started to dig pits, in which they could hide 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.
The pits used for maturing cheese can be of different shapes and sizes; they are generally flask-shaped with a base of about 2 Mt. Circumference and a height of about 3 Mt., neck included.
Today the same old medieval technique is still used to produce the “formaggio di fossa”, and this time the cheese is for export all over the world.
Local variants of “formaggio di fossa” can be found along the borders of Marche and Emilia Romagna, typically in the Appennine villages in the provinces of Forli Cesena, Rimini and Pesaro Urbino, more specifically, Sogliano al Rubicone and the mountain communities of the ‘Appennino Cesenatese’. The cheeses used can be pecorino cheese from sheep, or cheese from cow milk, depending on local traditions.
Recent studies on the product have pointed out that “formaggio di fossa” is also very easy to digest due to the action of the bacteria which break up the fats which give the cheese its typical sharp taste and pungent smell. To sum up, we can say that the “Formaggio di Fossa” can be considered to be one of the best dairy products around.