In the last fifteen years, there has been a Renaissance in the art of cheese making around the world. Great new cheeses, but also classical cheeses vying to be rediscovered and broaden their markets. Annual international competitions like the World Cheese Awards or the International Cheese Awards not forgetting the World Championship Cheese Contest held in the US have also helped to raise cheese to a new level amongst food lovers.
So my advice whenever you travel is to try the local cheese, you might just make your own discovery. Of course, not everyone has the time or resources to travel, but the internet brings the world to you. Recently, I was sent four Italian artisanal cheeses to try and here are my thoughts.
Gorgonzola Piccante Gran Riserva DOP
Gorgonzola Piccante is made from pasteurised cow’s milk, and this particular one comes from a small artisanal dairy in Piedmont. This dairy only produces this spicy version of this famous blue cheese. Sharper and firmer than the ‘dolce’ version of Gorgonzola, this cheese is straw coloured with more blue veins. Creamier than Stilton, but just as strong, the Gorgonzola Piccante is aromatic and intense and has been matured for 120 days.
It was not a spicy as I presume by the name, it was much more subtle and thus allowed the full flavour to tantalise the taste buds.
A tasting with two different jams; a lime jam and a red onion jam helped to focus on different flavour notes within the cheese. The lime cuts through some of the richness and gives a cleaner taste. The red onion is a rounder flavour that embraces the cheese.
I would also definitely recommend you drink a little Chianti Classico with this cheese because it adds flavour but is a light enough red wine that doesn’t overpower the cheese and dull the complexity of the cheese.
Delicious served simply with warm bread or paired with fig or citrus fruit jams, Tropea onion jam or Acacia honey. Great too crumbled into a salad (such as pear and rocket) and drizzled with sherry wine vinegar dressing. With regard to wine, I recommend this cheese with our Chianti Classico, with a sweet white wine or even a rose.
Asiago Stravecchio DOP
This is an aged Asiago cheese (Asiago stravecchio DOP is the more ripened version of Asiago) from the Veneto region. Matured for one year, it is a semi-hard cheese, made from pasteurised cow’s milk. Asiago is strong and intensely flavoured and slightly sharp but creamy at the same time. It has an amber paste with very small holes and crumbly texture.
This is an excellent table cheese which pairs well with fresh figs and pears as well as fig and pear preserves and spicier mustards. It also goes well with full-bodied red wines such as Barbera. A great choice for cooking too, this moist, supple cheese can be grated or cubed into your recipes.
Pecorino Romano Borgo Antico
Aside from Parmesan, Pecorino Romano is perhaps the most well know Italian cheese outside of Italy. Pecorino Romano cheese, whose method of production was first described by Latin authors like Varro and Pliny the Elder about 2,000 years ago, was first created in the countryside around Rome (Lazio region). Its long-term storage capacity led it to be used for merchant Roman legions rations. A daily ration of 27 grams was established to be given to the Legionaries, as a supplement to the bread and farro soup. This cheese gave back strength and vigour to tired soldiers giving energy and is easy to digest, so it featured heavily in Roman cuisine. This particular Pecorino has been made with raw sheep’s milk (giving it an authentic rural taste) and aged in ancient vaults. It is a hard, ivory coloured cheese, salty and sharp and leaves a long, full mineral-rich finish in the mouth.
Excellent eaten as a table cheese, Pecorino pairs well with chilli pepper jam, citrus fruit marmalades such as citron and bergamot and also mustard fruits or really ripe figs with honey. It is also often grated onto many pasta dishes. As for the right wine to accompany this cheese I suggest a bold red such as Negroamaro (not very well know but easily available in the UK and US) or Chianti.
Given its crumbly appearance, I was quite surprised this find this cheese is made from cow’s milk. This one of the most important and esteemed Italian cheeses and considered the ‘King of Cheese’ in its native Piemont, Castelmagno dates back to 1277.
It was the first cheese in Italy to be awarded DOP status. This is a pressed curd farmhouse cheese which is produced from raw cow’s milk which must come from a very small, designated area in the province of Cuneo.
It is quite difficult to track down in the UK. Semi-hard, dense and crumbly, this cheese gets stronger and spicier as it ages. Castelmagno has been matured for 120 days and has a unique, characteristic flavour. It is mild and nutty and has an earthy aroma.
Wonderful as a table cheese served with Acacia honey, or a honey that has either citrus or herb notes. Passito wine jelly is another expensive treat to serve with this cheese. Castelmagno is used in many of Piedmont’s regional specialities such as Risotto or gnocchi al Castelmagno. It also works well in summer salads with black cured olives*, ripe tomatoes and crispy pancetta. As for my wine recommendations, I think this delicious and interesting cheese is best enjoyed with a robust red wine such as Primitivo, Barolo or Brunello di Montalcino.
I enjoyed all four of these quality artisanal cheeses I was sent, but I would like to give a special mention to the Gorgonzola Piccante Gran Riserva DOP, this is a cheese I would urge my readers to seek out and try for yourself.
*Cured black olives are cured first with salt and then the salt is removed and then they finish the curing process in oil, sometimes herb infused oil. This process preserves a wonderful earthy olive taste plus additional flavours in the oil (herbs, chillies, or even spices such as cumin).
Special Thanks to the people over at Vorrei for kindly supplying the cheeses I reviewed