Valle d’Aosta food Fontina Cheese

Fontina factory

The fontina cheese is produced exclusively in Valle d’Aosta, here, due to the barrier of the Alps, the summer climate is dry: this permits the proliferation of a rich mountain flora composed of highly valued botanical essences. The aroma, the taste, the protein and vitamin contents: the best characteristics of the grasses and flowers of the mountain enter into the food of the cows, into their milk and, consequently, into the Fontina cheese.

The purity of the forage and the distance from the agricultural zones signifies an absolute absence of pesticides and anti-parasites: a natural environment for a genuine cheese. Fontina is prepared with a milk rich in vitamins, natural aromas, without anything being added or taken away: in fact the milk is neither skimmed or pasturized, so the biological and organoleptic components remain intact. The climate and the countryside of the Valle d’Aosta provides ideal conditions to produce this cheese, the only one in the world. Tradition does the rest.

 The history of Fontina is the history of the Valle d’Aosta. The first notes date back to 1200: whereas while there were some who were constructing impregnable castles, someone was paying attention to making life more flavorsome, and so produced the ancestor to the Fontina…

Already cheeses were mentioned in the feudal archives of 1267, and in the Summa Lacticinorum, written in 1477, it is said about Valle d’Aosta: “Here the cheeses are good and the pastures excellent. There are made to medium size, and become stringy when put on the fire or when placed into food”. A description of which there gives off already the perfume of the, by now, famous fondue.

In the castles of the Valle d’Aosta, there are frescoes in which between dames, cavaliers and warriors there may be seen a medieval bench of cheese sellers on which is recognizable the typical form of Fontina.

Making fontina

The preparation of the Fontina is a recipe which as been handed down through the centuries. It is produced exclusively with full cream milk, not pasteurized, from the cow of the breed Valle d’Aosta, feed mainly with green forage in the summer period and with local hay throughout the rest of the year.

The milk is worked within two hours of the milking, to preserve all of its wholesomeness and its perfume. To make it coagulate there is used the rennet of milking calves being prepared directly by the dairyman; within the hour the milk is condensed, worked again to make it homogeneous, and heated to 47-48°C.

After the extraction from the cauldron, the curds are immersed in a net and pressed to let drip through slowly the whey, the mixture left is then placed into the moulds which give the cheese its unmistakable form. After 12 hours, the mixture is then taken out of the moulds. Its form is straw white in color, elastic and soft. The maturing takes place in grottoes cut from the rocks, where the temperature is maintained at 5-10°C, with a level of humidity of at least 90%, to make it mature naturally these precious forms are preserved on pine shelves.

The intervention by man is daily: it needs constant care to make Fontina. The forms are turned over every day, alternating one day for salting and one for brushing. The scrubbing serves to take away from the crust the layer of mould due to the natural fermentation and to make the crust humid. The approximate period for maturing is 3 months.

The Cooperative Producers of Milk and Fontina began in 1957, to teach the producers (in most cases owners of small farms) as well as the consumers, and so was able to offer a guaranteed and secure product, protected from the numerous imitations.

The Cooperative occupies itself with the collecting, maturing and commercialization of the Fontina cheeses. Today there are about 400 producers of Fontina, between individual farms, cheese factory cooperatives and dairy factories: producing about 3.500 tons, equal to 400.000 forms of Fontina every year, guaranteed by the mark stamped by the Consorzio Produttori Fontina on every form, the “seal of quality”.

This mark requires numerous and very severe tests. With the knowledgeable way of tapping on the surface of the form, they know the consistency. The operation of coring consists of extracting a “wedge” of cheese to verify the look and the softness. The piece of cheese is folded between the fingers: if they bend, and the two extremities touch without breaking, then it is worthy to have the mark “fontina”.

Recommended wines:

Friuli Merlot; German Riesling; Dolcetto; Red & White Rhones; Urquell Pilsner.