Central to the story, and production of cheese in this region is the town of Bra, in the province of Cuneo. The area's culture is built upon the history of the nomadic herdsmen who came across the valleys with their animals to the plains with their herds. As a result there are many dairy farms and cheese makers in the area. Piedmont also claims eight DOP (Denomination of Protected Origin) cheeses so production is highly controlled, designated to a specific region that guarantees adherence to traditional methods.
One of those eight is Gorgonzola a fairly well known blue cheese here in the States. Another veined blue popular with Italians is Castelmagno, a nutty-tasting cow's milk cheese from the region. It's named after Saint Magnus and dates back to the 12th century. So prized and valued it was used as currency to pay rent to the Marquis of Saluzza for use of his pastures. Production is limited to 6,000 wheels a year with only 200 of this yield exported to the States.
The city of Bra, birthplace of the Slow Food movement, also carries it's name on a few DOP cheeses include Bra Tenero a young, semi-soft cheese; Bra Duro which is age 3 months or longer, and has a bigger taste and firmer texture than it's younger version. Today Bra is the site for the Slow Food Cheese Festival.
Robiola di Roccaverano, is the only Italian goat's milk cheese to possess the DOP label. The goats are raised on the slopes surrounding Roccaverano. Local lore on name origin is that the cheese was called rubeloe (ruddy) for it's pinkish rind color. It's a traditional fresh farmhouse cheese. Around Piedmont you'll find it dressed with bagnet vert (green sauce) made from chopped parsley, garlic, bread crumbs, pureed tomato and a few anchovies.
Unique from this region is "Broos" a strong and heat sinking stinking cheese made with a base of Toma della Langa or Robiola cheese with the addition of black pepper, chili pepper, grappa and dry white wine. There's a saying that farmers repeat to first time tasters that translates as 'love is stronger than Bross.' Certainly not for the shy cheese eater or those with timid tummies as many say "it has a hell of a kick" in taste and odor. It is said to be the color of earth and is usually spread on bread like jam.
Tomino is a hard cheese made from partially skimmed cow's milk that carries a sweet taste. Typically it is sold fresh, wrapped in paper. It can also be found marinated in oil with hot pepper or with aromatic herbs. A great melting cheese--think grilled Tomino cheese on toasted bread with nuts or fig spread. Or how about a variation on Tomino alla piasata an elegant and rich open-faced sandwich of creamy cheese, oven baked mushrooms with rosemary on a bruschetta with a bit of truffle oil.
So pick yourself up and go to the cheese shop or visit Artisanal Cheese where they are featuring a three cheese Piemonte selection for $49. Or pop over to IGourmet where the selection is wide. It just might be time to try out the Piemont version of Swiss fondue called fonduta made with melted cheese, milk, eggs, and of course white truffles. Say cheese, please!
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