GORGONZOLA CHEESE | LOMBARDY
Gorgonzola is a veined Italian blue cheese, made from unskimmed cow's milk. It can be buttery or firm, crumbly and quite salty, with a "bite" from its blue veining.
Gorgonzola has been produced for centuries in Gorgonzola, Milan, acquiring its greenish-blue marbling in the eleventh century. However, the town's claim of geographical origin is disputed by other localities. Today, it is mainly produced in the northern Italian regions of Piedmont and Lombardy. Whole cow's milk is used, to which starter bacteria is added, along with spores of the mold Penicillium glaucum. Penicillium roqueforti, used in Roquefort cheese, may also be used. The whey is then removed during curdling, and the result aged at low temperatures. During the aging process metal rods are quickly inserted and removed, creating air channels that allow the mold spores to grow into hyphae and cause the cheese's characteristic veining. Gorgonzola is typically aged for three to four months. The length of the aging process determines the consistency of the cheese, which gets firmer as it ripens. There are two varieties of Gorgonzola, which differ mainly in their age: Gorgonzola Dolce (also called Sweet Gorgonzola) and Gorgonzola Piccante (also called Gorgonzola Naturale, Gorgonzola Montagna, or Mountain Gorgonzola). Under Italian law, Gorgonzola enjoys Protected Geographical Status. Termed DOP in Italy, this means that it can only be produced in the provinces of Novara, Bergamo, Brescia, Como, Cremona, Cuneo, Lecco, Lodi, Milan, Pavia, Varese, Verbano-Cusio-Ossola and Vercelli, as well as a number of comuni in the area of Casale Monferrato ( province of Alessandria).
Gorgonzola may be eaten in many ways. It may be melted into a risotto in the final stage of cooking, or served alongside polenta. Pasta with gorgonzola is a dish appreciated almost everywhere in Italy by gorgonzola lovers; usually gorgonzola goes on short pasta, such as penne, rigatoni, mezze maniche, or sedani, not with spaghetti or linguine. It is frequently offered as pizza topping. Combined with other soft cheeses it is an ingredient of pizza ai quattro formaggi (four-cheeses pizza).
GRANA PADANO CHEESE | LOMBARDY
Grana Padano is one of the most popular cheeses of Italy. The name comes from the noun grana (‘grain’), which refers to the distinctively grainy texture of the cheese, and the adjective Padano, which refers to the valley Pianura Padana. It is called "Grana Padano" and not "Grana Padana" because the Italian word grana is the masculine noun, il grana, describing this specific cheese, and not the feminine noun la grana, which means "grain". Grana Padano has protected designation of origin status since 1996.
Grana Padano is one of the world's first hard cheeses, created nearly 900 years ago by the Cistercian monks of Chiaravalle Abbey, founded in 1135 near Milan, who used ripened cheese as a way of preserving surplus milk. By the year 1477, it was regarded as one of the most famous cheeses of Italy. It can last a long time without spoiling, sometimes aging up to two years. It is made in a similar way to the Parmigiano Reggiano of Emilia-Romagna but over a much wider area and with different regulations and controls. Other grana cheeses are also made in Lombardy, Piedmont, Trentino, and Veneto.
Like Parmigiano Reggiano, Grana Padano is a semifat hard cheese which is cooked and ripened slowly (for at least 9 months, then, if it passes the quality tests, it will be fire-branded with the Grana Padano trademark). The cows are milked twice a day, the milk is left to stand, and then partially skimmed. Milk produced in the evening is skimmed to remove the surface layer of cream and mixed with fresh milk produced in the morning. The partly skimmed milk is transferred into copper kettles and coagulated; the resulting curd is cut to produce granules with the size of rice grains, which gives the cheese its characteristic texture, and then cooked to . It is produced year-round and the quality can vary seasonally as well as by year. Though similar to Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, the younger Grana Padano cheeses are less crumbly, milder and less complex in flavor than their more famous, longer-aged relative.
A wheel of Grana Padano is cylindrical, with slightly convex or almost straight sides and flat faces. It measures in diameter, and in height. It weighs 24 to 40 kg (53 to 88 lbs) per wheel. The rind, which is thin, is white or straw yellow. Grana Padano is sold in three different ripening stages:
- "Grana Padano" (9 to 16 months): texture still creamy, only slightly grainy
- "Grana Padano oltre 16 mesi" (over 16 months): crumblier texture, more pronounced taste
- "Grana Padano Riserva" (over 20 months): grainy, crumbly and full flavoured
- Grana padano cheese typically contains cheese crystals, semi-solid to gritty crystalline spots that at least partially consist of the amino acid tyrosine.
HOW TO MAKE CHEESE | Survival
Like fine wine, good cheese has a reputation as something that requires expert skills and special equipment to make. While it’s true that most cheeses, especially fancy ones like camembert and gouda, have rightfully earned that reputation, professional cheesemakers don’t typically concern themselves with the one type of cheese that has been made since Neolithic times—which, not coincidentally, happens to be the easiest cheese in the world to make: farmer’s cheese.
What we call farmer’s cheese here in North America has had different names in different regions of the globe over time. Ever eat saag paneer in an Indian restaurant? You may have mistaken it for tofu, but those firm white cubes on top of the spinach were actually the pressed curds of goat milk cheese, known in India as paneer. In the African country of Benin, the same substance is called waagashi. In Latin countries, farmers call it queso fresco or queso blanco, but it’s the same stuff—enchiladas are among its many uses in Mexican cuisine. Ricotta cheese in Italy, quark in Germany, and cottage cheese in America are all variations on the same cheese. The only differences among them are moisture content and the foods they are associated with.
How to Make Farmer’s Cheese
First, you don’t have to be a farmer to make this cheese. Fresh, raw milk straight from the barn is an ideal ingredient, but almost any type of milk from the grocery store will do. Goat, sheep, cow—any variety will work, and each lends its own characteristic flavor to the final product. The only thing to avoid is ultra-pasteurized milk, as it does not curdle properly.
Most cheeses are curdled with rennet, which is typically derived from the intestines of baby cows, but farmer’s cheese relies on something that’s a little less brutal to obtain: lemons. Actually, any number of acidic substances may be used, but lemon juice and white vinegar are the most common. The cheese will absorb a hint of flavor from either, so some cheesemakers opt for citric acid, which has a more subdued flavor, as a curdling agent. Citric acid can be found in many grocery stores in the canning section or purchased online.
Here are the simple steps to making farmer’s cheese. One gallon of milk will yield approximately one pound of cheese.
- Heat the milk in a heavy-bottomed pot, using a low setting on the stove to avoid scalding the milk. Stir the milk occasionally as it heats.
- Turn off the stove when the temperature reaches approximately 180 to 190 degrees Fahrenheit. You can use a cheesemaking thermometer to track the temperature (a canning thermometer is basically the same thing), or you can watch carefully for the first signs of boiling (which occurs just above 200 degrees) and then turn off the heat.
- Slowly add the curdling agent (lemon juice, vinegar, or citric acid) and watch for the milk to curdle. Stir very gently as you add the curdling agent and white clumps (the curds) will soon form, leaving a cloudy, yellowish fluid in the pot, known as whey. Many cheese recipes call for a specific amount of curdling agent—the juice of one large lemon, a quarter cup of vinegar, or one teaspoon of citric acid per gallon of milk is typical for farmer’s cheese—but the exact amount needed varies considerably based on the unique properties of each batch of milk (especially with non-homogenized, farm-fresh milk). It’s advantageous to use the least amount of acid possible to avoid an excessively tangy flavor. As soon as the curds form, stop adding the curdling agent. Let the pot sit for about 20 minutes for a complete separation between the curds and whey.
- Line a colander with cheesecloth and pour the curds and whey through it over a sink. Whey has dozens of uses, from baking bread to giving your pets a milky treat, so place a bowl beneath the colander if you want to save it.
- At this point, the curds will be soft and spreadable—perfect for mixing with salt and herbs and spreading on crackers. (The herbs you harvested at the end of this summer and dried would be perfect.) Or, place the curds in a bowl with a bit of whey (do not stir or fold in) and you have cottage cheese. For a drier, firmer cheese, tie the cheesecloth with the curds inside it to a wooden spoon suspended on the edges of a large pot or pitcher to continue draining the whey.
After a couple hours, the curds will have the crumbly texture of queso fresco. If you want a really firm farmer’s cheese, like paneer, leave the cheesecloth full of curds in the colander and place them in the refrigerator overnight with a weight on top (like a large can of tomato sauce) and a bowl beneath to catch the whey as it seeps out. Because farmer’s cheese is not aged, it is best consumed when fresh. It may be stored in a refrigerator for a week to 10 days.
TALEGGIO CHEESE | LOMBARDY
Taleggio is a semi-soft, washed rind, smear-ripened Italian cheese that is named after Val Taleggio. The cheese has a thin crust and a strong aroma, but its flavor is comparatively mild with an unusual fruity tang.Taleggio and similar cheeses have been around since Roman times, with Cicero, Cato the Elder, and Pliny the Elder all mentioning it in their writings. The cheese was solely produced in the Val Taleggio until the late 1800s, when some production moved to the Lombardy plain to the south.
The production takes place every autumn and winter when the cows are tired from a summer of grazing. First, the acidified milk is brought to the processing center from milk calves as per tradition that will mature within six to ten weeks. After the cheese is made it is set on wood shelves in chambers and washed once a week with a seawater sponge in order to prevent mold infestation and to prevent the cheese from forming an orange or rose crust. Today, the cheese is made from both pasteurized milk and from raw milk in factories. The factory-made cheeses are brighter and moderate in flavor. Spices, raisins, nuts and some lemons are also added.
The cheese can be eaten grated with salads such as radicchio or rucola and with spices and tomato on bruschetta. It melts well, and can be used in risotto or on polenta.