BeanScene Magazine

Italy’s historic blue cheese

From the October 2016 issue.
Italy’s historic blue cheese

Produced in Northern Italy since as far back as the 9th century, Gorgonzola is Italy’s ancient blue cheese, with a unique taste and aroma.

By Luke McDermott, Cheese Category Manager at Conga Foods

Some say Gorgonzola was first produced in the town of Gorgonzola, near Milan, in the year 879 AD. Others say it was first produced in Pasturo nella Valsassina, the famous Italian cheesemaking region, due to the presence of excellent natural caves where the average temperature is constantly between 6°C and 12°C; the perfect conditions for the ageing of Gorgonzola. In either case, the town of Gorgonzola remained the most famous location associated with the production of Gorgonzola DOP, despite not actually being the main production or trade centre. In fact, the real Gorgonzola’s first name was stracchino di Gorgonzola.

Gorgonzola production spread to both the Lombardy and Piedmont regions, though slowly compared with other cheeses; where Pavia and Novara joined Milan and Como as the key areas in the production of Gorgonzola DOP. The production area was defined by 1955 and the maturing area by 1977 Decrees, by the Consortium for the Protection of Gorgonzola Cheese. It was acknowledged by the European Union as Gorgonzola DOP in 1996.

Cheese factories and the many creameries spread all over the Po River Valley collect milk from farms and produce cheese, which is then transferred to the main maturing facilities. Today, approximately 30 well-structured large and medium-sized companies process milk and mature gorgonzola cheese in their modern production facilities.  

By law and tradition, Gorgonzola cheese production is allowed in only two Italian regions. In Piedmont, it can only be produced in the provinces of Novara, Vercelli, Cuneo, Biella, Verbano Cusio Ossola, and the area of Casale Monferrato. And in Lombardy, the permitted areas of production are the provinces of Bergamo, Brescia, Como, Cremona, Lecco, Lodi, Milan, Monza, Pavia and Varese. Only milk produced in such provinces may be used to make and grant Gorgonzola cheese a DOP certification. Of the three main production provinces, Novara accounts for more than 45% of production, Pavia 22% and Milan 15%.

Gorgonzola comes in two main types: Dolce or sweet Gorgonzola is matured for a minimum of 50 days and is straw-white, soft and creamy with greenish/blue streaks deriving from a process called erborinatura in Italian, that is the creation of moulds. The second type is Piccante which is aged for a minimum of 80 days, resulting in a stronger flavour, with the curd showing thicker more blue-veined paste. It is also more crumbly in texture.

Both types of Gorgonzola cheese are produced with pasteurised whole cow’s milk in the areas approved by the Consortium for the Protection of Gorgonzola Cheese. Lactic acid bacteria and selected moulds of the Penicillium roqueforti spores are added to develop the iconic marbled blue veined moulds.

Gorgonzola rounds (wheels) are marked at the origin on both flat faces with the Consortium’s symbol and with the code of the producer. Consumers may recognise the cheese by the ‘g’ brand printed on the aluminium sheet wrapping the cheese, which is exclusively assigned to the producers authorised by the Consortium.

During the maturing phase, the cheese is regularly pierced to promote the passage of air, which is necessary for the development of the iconic mould formation through the cheese.

Gorgonzola Dolce is used in many traditional and modern recipes and is excellent in cream-based sauces for pasta, especially with homemade potato gnocchi. Gorgonzola Piccante, stronger in flavour and crumbly in texture, is perfect for an entertaining cheeseboard with walnuts and honey, matched with a glass of Barolo DOCG from Piedmont.

Conga Foods has imported Ballarini Gorgonzola Dolce DOP for over a decade and has recently begun to import Ballarini Gorgonzola Piccante, as well as both varieties in new 200g individually portioned packs.

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