Will Studd travels to the foothills of the Italian Alps to discover more about the traditional cheeses that are rarely found anywhere else. This historic region of Northern Italy is endowed with rich and diverse landscapes and bordered by the impressive Swiss and French Alps. Its beautiful rugged mountain pastures, quaint stone villages and profound shining lakes, are home to a diverse variety of ancient cow’s milk cheeses. The soft cheeses made from goat’s milk are found and produced more in the hills and vine covered valleys of the south.
A very popular local cheese Toma, was originally made in small village dairies using the milk from the cows of several families.
The ancient name of Toma is applied to small and large cheese of various degrees of ripening, texture and taste. Each is generally associated with the name of the nearest village or town.
The Toma that stands out for Will Studd is made from the red-spotted cows, located high in the Alpage region, which produce only 15L of precious milk each day. The cows graze on the fertile natural pastures of the Alps during the summer months, which are covered in a botanical smorgasboard of wild grasses and flowers. These are ingested by the cows and the resulting cheese is an intriguing array of flavours and textures.
To learn more about this benchmark and other local cheeses Will visitis the town of Bra, which is home to the Slow Food movement, a global organisation which promotes local foods, biodiversity and cheese made from raw milk.
In the Province of Asti, Will Studd discovers one of the Slow Food presidium cheeses, Robiola Roccaverano Classico.
Robiola is the most well known soft cheese in Piedmont. There are industrial versions made with cow’s milk and others with a mixture of cow’s, goat’s and ewe’s milk. The original was made from pure goat’s milk and takes its name from the charming town of Roccaverano.
Despte its ancient past, Robiola is now permitted to be made with 85% cow’s milk. The Slow Food movement and one young couple challenged this compromise and their dairy is now the only one to make Robiola using 100% goat’s milk. The dairy is so successful that it now grazes 400 goats on the wild grasses, flowers and herbs on the pastures around the farm and have named the traditional cheese Robiola Roccaverano Classico.
Evening and morning milkings are combined, culture is added and allowed to coagulate for 18 hours. The curds are then gently scooped into the small cylindrical moulds and allowed to drain overnight, before being matured for several weeks.
According to the Slow Food description the resulting taste is a “delicate, uncomplicated, sensory profile with notes of yoghurt, early sprouting grass and hazelnuts. When more mature it has goaty nuances”.
Murazzano is another traditional and endangered Robiola made in the hills of Cuneo. It is made from the milk of the Langhe sheep breed whose numbers have dropped dramatically in the past 50 years. As a result, most Murazzano is made with up to 40% cow’s milk.
Will Studd visits a small farm in the region which produces this traditional version of Robiola, now called Tuma di Pecora delle Langhe, under the Slow Food Presidium recognition rules. It is the most distinguished cheeses of the Cuneo region and its secret is raw milk. It contains no cow’s milk and is made only from Langhe ewe’s milk, mixed with a very small proportion of sheep’s milk.
Fresh raw milk is gently heated to 37 degrees. Animal rennet and starter cultures are added and the milk is allowed to set. The curd is cut twice in the process. The excess whey is drained off and the curds are carefully placed in draining baskets, which are flipped several times in the baskets to encourage the curd to drain. Finally the young cheese is dry salted, which encourages a thin rind to form as they mature on wooden shelves. The result is a delicious soft textured cheese with a delicate sweet flavour.
As home to the international Slow Food movement, it’s no wonder the Piedmont region has preserved some of the most exquisite traditional and endangered artisanal cheeses in the world.