Cheese is one of the oldest human food since ancient times. Italy boasts an endless series of cheeses.
The history of cheese
Fresh cheeses, especially made from sheep and goat milk, appeared as early as the third millennium BC. For the ancient romans it was the Caesus. From that name the current italian word Cacio. Nowadays very popular word, especially matching Pepe, for the Cacio e pepe pasta. The Latin root is still found today in different languages Cheese, Queso, Kaas or Kaese. We find traces of it in thousands of ancient writings, and it seems that cheese was a democratic food. Present on the tables of the rich as well as the poor, emperors, and leaders, as well as shepherds and artisans.
Ora et Labora: Cheese & monks
An impulse to the consumption of dairy products is also due to the Church, in particular with the obligation of the numerous lean days that forbade the faithful to eat meat. Always to the monks, especially to the Benedictines, we owe the push to the breeding of cattle and, therefore, to the beginning of the production of cow’s cheeses. From the eleventh century they began to produce cheeses, still famous today, such as Grana, parmesan, gorgonzola, caciocavallo and others. We know the list of most popular cheeses in the Middle Ages, thanks to the Summa Lacticiniorum by Pantaleone da Confienza (1477). The word formaggio (italian for cheese) began to be used in the late Middle Ages, when trade began to move goods within Europe. Formaggio comes, therefore, from the word forma, that is to say, shaped cheese.
Cheese in Italy
Dairy production in Italy is one of the national artisan boasts. The types and varieties are so many that we cannot list them all. We know that Italy is a country where some regions are suited and dedicated to agriculture and pastoralism. In each italian region, therefore, cheese is produced, of different types and tastes.
Cheeses from Northern Italy
In the Northern regions of Italy, where pastures are found in the mountains and plains, cattle farms are widespread. Large animals need ample space and fresh nutrition. The quality and type of fodder greatly affect the taste of the final product. For this reason, the so-called mountain pasture cheese has unique and inimitable characteristics. The temperature is cooler in the northern regions and allows optimal seasoning for soft and pressed cheeses and blue cheeses.
There are many northern cheeses classifyed as DOP.
If we wanted to list only the DOP we would pass from the Piedmontese Bra DOP of mountain pasture or soft and hard, Castelmagno, Murazzano, Raschera, Robiola di Roccaverano, Toma Piemontese, to the Lombards Bitto and Formai de Mut of the Upper Brembana Valley. The Provolone della Valpadana, the Quartirolo, Taleggio and Valtellina casera. Have you ever tasted the Spressa delle Giudicarie dell’Alto Adige or the Puzzone di Moena? Asiago, Monte Veronese, Casatella Trevigiana from Veneto Region. The famous Montasio Dop from Friuli-Venezia Giulia. In Liguria the Prescinsêua. Have you ever tried Fossa di Sogliano cheese and the king of Italian cheese: Parmigiano Reggiano?
In the center-south Italy and Sardinia
In the South, sheep and goat breeding is widespread, because of the hilly and maritime terrain. Sparse vegetation and lack of large pastures. In the Pontine plain and in Campania we find water- buffalo farms. The buffalo is an animal that loves water and moist soils, and needs open spaces. Here it finds its own territory, and it is in these regions, with an enclave in Puglia, where the famous Mozzarella di Bufala comes from.
Goat & sheep milk rules in Southern Italy.
Tuscany offers us Pecorino Toscano, and many others. From Umbria the famous Pecorino from Norcia. In Lazio, obviously Pecorino Romano and Roman ricotta. The Casciotta of Urbino is, instead, typical of Marche region. In Abruzzo and Molise Caciocavallo di Agnone and Ricotta with juniper smoke. Puglia, with Caciocavallo Poldolico del Gargano and Burrata. In Campania long live the Mozzarella di Bufala Campana and Provolone del Monaco. In Basilicata the Pecorino di Filiano. Sicily with the Vastedda of the Belìce valley and Sardinia with the Fiore Sardo and Pecorino Romano. We have mentioned only a few DOP and it is already an impressive list.
Types of cheese
Cheeses can be made using real types of milk. Formaggi (made from cow’s milk), caprini (made from goat’s milk), pecorino cheese (made from sheep’s milk) buffalo cheeses (buffalo milk). Then there are all the cheeses that are obtained from the mixture of different milk. Without neglecting those produced from milk of non-animal origin, such as soy or almond, which although not included in the list of typical Italian cheeses, are increasingly finding a market.
How to make cheese
It is necessary, therefore, milk, a container for cooking, rennet, salt and any ingredients to be added. The milk must be filtered and chilled, selected for the type of product to be obtained. In fact, not all milk has the ideal characteristics. At this point the curd is made.
What is the curd
The curd is the first and fundamental step for the production of cheese. Casein, which is the milk protein, after the addition of rennet, separates from the whey passing into a gelatinous state. Rennet, therefore, is an extract of animal origin, containing enzymes capable of separating whey and proteins. With the whey you can get ricotta cheese. Milk, then passes from liquid to gelatinous solid. When the curd is ready, it is necessary to break the mass. This is an operation of crushing the dough into small, medium or large pieces depending on whether you have to produce hard, medium or soft cheese. The consistency of the dough therefore varies from hard if it contains less than 40% of water to semi-hard (it contains between 40 and 45%) to springs (45%-60%).
Raw cheeses, cooked, semi-cooked.
Crushing the curd, this is enough to make raw cheese. Or cook it at 52-56 ° C for cooked pasta. At 38-48°C for those with semi-cooked pasta. Pasta filata is a chees by the curd maturing a few hours in hot whey. Afterwards, the cheesemaker pulls it is handly in the shape. Then they press the forms to facilitate the extraction of whey. Blue if the paste contains mold and that give the classic blue or green veins. After purging, the curd goes into the forms, with the add of salt. Than the cheesmaker press it. Salting can also be carried out in a brine. After that there is the maturation. Times and styles vary greatly.