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Cheeses


BITTO

Given the vast lowlands of the Lombardy region, breeding is primarily dedicated to cattle. Suffice it to say that Lombardy produces a full thirty-seven million quintals of milk and of this amount around thirty of them are designated to the production of cheese, with the leading provinces being Brescia and Cremona, followed then by Mantua and Milan. Industrial standards are imposed on all cattle rearing: the most widespread race of cows is called the "Italian frisona," given its name for its characteristic dappled white and black mantle. This is perhaps considered the best race for milk production. These cows are fed hay during the winter, while in the summer months the herds are transferred to the Alps, among the mountain meadows where they may roam about freely eating the fresh forage, rich in flowers and aromatic grasses. This in return creates a better tasting milk which is also fuller in fat.
One of the historical cheeses from Lombardy is "bitto" from Valtellina.
A cheese made from cow's milk which is formed into a cooked dough and then salted to dry. It is of a soft nature and must be left to age at least seventy days, but may also be aged for several years with excellent results. This cheese is subject to strict controls of its origin and may only be produced during the summer, when the milk comes from cows left freely to graze on Valtellina's southern slope. Originally, the production zone was limited to Val Gerola where the Bitto stream, from which this cheese takes its name, flows. Only over the course of time has the zone been widened to include other valleys in the province of Sondrio and to a few particular Alps in Alta Val Brembana, located in the province of Bergamo.
The cheese production is begun there in the Alpine huts so as to start with freshly collected milk. The moulds are preserved in appropriate stone tubs where they are left to age until summer's end when the herds are led back to the bottom of the valley.
This cheese is cited in the famous "Liber Laticiniorum", written in the fourteenth century, but there are also some documents on file which suggest that bitto was already in use from the beginning of the eleventh century.




CRESCENZA

This is a typically 'padano' cheese, almost exclusively produced today on an industrial level in the province of Milan. Crescenza belongs to the extensive family of 'stracchini' cheeses that have earned a fundamental place in the history of the Lombardan diet. These are cheeses obtained with milk collected as soon as the herds reentered from the alpine pastures and were therefore tired from the long walk that they must have faced. In the Lombardan dialect, the word for tired, "stanco", is pronounced "strach," the adjective from which this family of cheeses, noted for its sweet taste and soft, buttery appearance, derives.
Crescenza owes its name to the fact that, if kept in a hot environment, it tends to ferment and to swell (much like bread does with the addition of yeast), because it is a raw cheese and therefore expires quickly, being produced with whole pasteurized cow's milk. The square form is placed in brine and subsequently aged for five or six days. It has no rind. This white homogeneous cheese is delicate and must be used within a few days. It is not used for cooking, but is excellent eaten as an accompaniment to celery and other raw vegetables.
All over Lombardy, tradition dictated that stracchino was served for supper on Christmas Eve. It was accompanied with a particular mustard produced in the city of Cremona from which it takes its name. Unfortunately, however, this is a tradition that is disappearing, as almost everywhere, the combination of salty/sweet and sweet/strong has generated very refined tastes.




CASOLET DELL'ADAMELLO

This is a cheese that has preserved its original local value by not having entered into national mass production. It may be found in dairies in the mountainous area of the massif Adamello that stretches from the basin of Lago d'Iseo along all the Val Camonica, up to the Val di Sole beyond the Passo del Tonale, in the province of Trento. The most notable aspect of casolet is its triangular form, rare to find in other Italian cheeses or cheeses from abroad. This was suggested, perhaps, for greater facility of transport and marketing. The casolet dell'Adamello has a rind which can be either smooth or slightly wrinkled, white or light yellow in colour, and is lightly covered with a compact coating that becomes more evident with ageing. The cheese itself is soft and dense, and is marked with many fine pores. Its taste is sweet and particularly delicate.
It is usually eaten as part of a meal with slices of hot polenta that make it melt like cream, even though it is not high in fat.
It is, in fact, a raw cheese obtained from partially skimmed pasteurized cow's milk, coming from the evening collection of milk coupled with the early-morning one. It is salted in brine and its ageing is completed in a minimum of twenty to a maximum of sixty days.




GORGONZOLA

This very intensely flavoured cheese, excellent served as an accompaniment in first courses, with polenta or even on its own, was actually born in the city of the same name where, once upon a time, men arriving from the northern Alps stayed to rest their herds of cows. The beasts, at the end of a long and arduous trip, needed to be milked and in so doing left the local inhabitants with a large quantity of milk. Often the curd from the early-morning milking was added to the formerly cooled collection of milk from the previous night. This in turn formed a mixture which was no longer homogeneous, evidenced by cracks through which ran veins of greenish mould. After some time, a group of hungry farmers decided to taste this curious concoction of creamy cheese and green mould. It was so well-received that it was commercialized, and over the course of a century became one of most famous Italian cheeses.




MASCARPONE

For the most part, this is a cheese that is not consumed as at is but, rather, added in the preparation of other dishes. It is used to make many delicious desserts as well as all kinds of mousses (ham, herring, anchovies etc.). As such it is built upon to create sophisticated appetizers or pastry creams (which are then placed in desserts) and may then be offered in parfait glasses, mixed with eggs, sugar and rum and further garnished with bananas, mandarins or small biscuits.
It is produced on an industrial level foremost in the Lodi and Abbiategrasso zones. Obtained by a process which acidifies the cream of cow's milk, it has a creamy consistency and is ready after twenty-four hours of ageing.
The name probably derives from the term "lombardo maschera", meaning Lombardan disguise, which indicates a resemblance that mascarpone shares to a certain degree with ricotta.

GRANA PADANO

This historical cheese originated in a somewhat limited area between the Po plain, the river Ticino, the river Adda and Milan. It had already been seen around the year one thousand in the history of the Lombardan diet. Under the reign of Federico Barbarossa (Frederick Redbeard), Chiaravalle's cistercian monks reclaimed lower Lombardy by developing agriculture and animal breeding. In order to preserve excess milk, a technique was refined for the production of aged cheese. In the time period between the years 1150 to 1200, this cheese took on the name "grano" or grain for its grainy texture and came to be produced in numerous dairies. In 1477, a physician named Pantaleone da Confienza described grana in his "Summa Lacticiniorum" as the most famous of all Italian cheeses, but as early as 1334 the name grana appeared in the cafeteria register of Florence's Priori. Benvenuto da Imola noted that merchants usually carried an extra supply of grana piacentino (grana from the area of the city of Piacenza) on their sea voyages because it proved itself, "easier to keep and resistant to all disease."
Today, as its name states, it is produced throughout the lowland plains of Lombardy, excluding only the part of Emilia where another cheese, Italy's precious "parmigiano reggiano", or parmesan is produced instead. There are also various other areas of production of grana padano, being between the provinces of Cuneo over to Venice, and from Trento to Forĺ. Produced year-round, grana padano distinguishes itself in two types: maggengo, a cheese which is formed with milk collected in the spring or summer, and vernengo, formed with milk from the autumn or winter.
Grana padano is a semi-fat cheese with a hard paste, it is cooked and ripened at length, produced only with the milk of cows whose diet has consisted primarily of greens or preserved forage, then collected from two daily milkings, the first of which is skimmed to separate the cream. To this milk then heated to a temperature of 31-33°C, two things are added: the first is a serum which strengthens the filocasearia flora thus reducing the percentage of cheese which must be discarded. The other is rennet. The curds are then broken, drained, and heated to 53-55°C. When the paste becomes sour and elastic, the mass is divided into two moulds which are soaked in a salt-saturated brine. After 26-28 days the moulds are matured for a period that varies from twelve to fourteen months, sometimes even longer. Covering the cheese itself is a thick, golden waxed rind, the paste inside being white or pale yellow, slightly granular, and marked by fissures inside which flake easily. It has a delicate and fragrant taste and is marked with many, hardly visible fine pores. The cheese is selected for ripeness and its consistency and aroma are verified by listening to the sound that is made by tapping on the moulds with a hammer and by use of a special thread. Only those which meet the standards of law are then branded. The approved moulds of cheese are imprinted with a mark of origin in the shape of a four-leaf clover, signalling the province and dairy. The quality mark is made in the shape of a rhombus attesting to the adhesion to the typical characteristics of the cheese, and there is also a wording repeated all over rind of the wheel of cheese. Among the Italian Dop (protected name of origin) cheeses, grana padano is that which boasts the largest production.
Beyond its use as a grated cheese, it is also consumed as part of a meal and is also valid as an optimal final course for its easy digestion.


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