The aTTavola Cheese Project

Exclusively for members of  “La Cucina di aTTavola” Culinary Club


In this space, we will share our experiences living, working and eating in Sicily and all over Italy. 

We are passionate about food and about life in Italy.  We are constantly tasting, exploring, travelling, discovering and researching, whether it be centuries’ old traditions or modern techniques applied to update old standards.  We hope you will enjoy the information that you will find here – it will truly be our passion on the page.

We’re always open to suggestions – if there is some culinary aspect of life in Italy that you feel is underrepresented or underreported, let us know at info@attavola.com and we may just post an article about it in the future!



An Overview on the History of Cheese

The transformation of milk into cheese has ancient origins (more than 10,000 years ago) and in the course of the succeeding centuries has undergone constant and radical changes.


Before true agricultural systems developed, sheep and goat farming contained the resources that were most important in sustaining life. Man, by domesticating milk-giving animals (sheep and goats first and then later cows), utilized the meat and the milk as his principal resources, saving the extra milk for his family’s needs and for production of acidified dairy products (known in antiquity as “Komos” or “Kumis”). The aim of these ancient beverages was to try to preserve them for as long as possible because they could easily deteriorate quickly. This technique of drinking surely preceded the art of producing cheese. 

                 

Since the beginning of the production, soft cheese has represented the most simple form of transformation, the techniques of preparation, based on empirical rules and traditions, that came to be perfected over centuries of experience, reaching today with a remarkable level of perfection. 


Initially, the milk of goats and sheep, left in baskets, coagulated spontaneously, or better, the coagulation was induced by adding the sap from figs. They separated the denser parts that coagulated and acquired a certain consistency, from those that were more light (the whey) – these remaining curds were the origins of the first cheese, also called “giuncate” (because the cheese was placed in a basket made of “giunco” or reeds). 

                 

It appears that the word “formaggio” (Italian for cheese) comes from the Greek word “formos” (put in molds). The most ancient document, dating back to the 3rd century A.C., is  a frieze depicting dairy production, which you can admire in the bas-relief of Ancient Sumeria, gives evidence to the particular precision of the phases of working the milk. It shows the priests (dairy experts of the period) in different moments applying the techniques of dairy production. Quotations on use of the milk and of its derivatives are found on this sacred scripture, but it is with the Greek and Roman civilizations that the importance of cheese production is affirmed, as it became a basic part of the diet of Hellenic shepherds and peasants. 


It was with the Greek age that the technology for transforming milk was developed, giving rise to new types of cheese, not only those fresh and soft, but also hard, aged cheeses as well, suitable for grating. There were cheeses with honey, with aromatic herbs, torts with cheese and figs, or olives, or apples, or cheese with onions. Cheeses from Lesbo, Gallipoli, from Crete and Sicily become renowned. The Greeks knew many techniques for producing cheese, as well as its secret health and therapeutic benefits. The Romans perfected their cheese-making techniques; especially when they introduced cow’s milk, until then used sparsely. During the period of Middle Ages a grand variety of cheeses originated, a bit in every country. Above all else, the diversity of cheeses grew the most where the Romans spread their technology of production that utilized animal rennet.



Cheese in Renaissance Italy

The Renaissance marked a moment of splendor, not only for art, but also in the sciences and technology; it verified a renewed legacy of civil and economic progress for Italy.

While in the medieval society a person produced for his family and for his little neighborhood, in the Renaissance civilization, characterized by urban development, one had to face, besides the demands from the rural neighborhoods, also those new urban markets.


To satisfy the demand from a society continuously growing in urban population and manufacturing, agriculture underwent a profound renewal that brought an increase in the production and specialization of jobs and saw manufacturing move from rural farms to industrial factories.


The principal production of cheese developed during the summer period, in the mountainous region of the Alps, while in the winter period the herd went to the plains to consume dried forage. The Lombardian farmhouse was the winter headquarters of the transhumance (the cycle of moving the herd up and down the mountains with the seasons), the owners conceding the use of the shelter and supply of hay necessary to survive the difficult winter period while waiting to return to the Alps.


The typical cheese, produced in the 1500s in the Padania region, was a hard cheese with cooked curds, very similar to today’s Grana Padano. It was obtained with a technical innovation, for cooking the milk, that permitted one to obtain a product particularly adapted to long periods of aging.


Among the most known  cheeses from Padania are the Piacentini , the Lodesani, and also the Bresciani, which is different from the preceding cheeses because of the weight, the shape and the mode of salting the cheese.


These Padania products were made with cow’s milk or more frequently with a mixture of cow and sheep’s milk and they were the most requested and appreciated cheeses in all of the markets of Europe.

In the Padania plains the milk products came from many different processes, primarily influenced by the alternating seasons and adapting to the diverse compositions of the milk that was less rich in cream in the period of spring/summer, when the herd was fed with fresh forage. In the good season, the milk was processed whole, and the curds were broken into smaller pieces and cooked to higher temperatures. Proceeding in this way, cheese makers would not come up against problems to store the cheese for long periods of time. During the winter they produced a less precious cheese, therefore it was better to separate the cream or the fat from the preparation in order to make butter.


To give a nice straw color to the cheese, they used to introduce a small quantity of saffron. This was done because cheese with more color was considered to be of the highest quality.


When the curd was broken up and reduced and started to resemble grains of rice (by using a stick with a long, round head), and when the cooking curd grew together uniformly, the curds were poured into wooden molds, arranged by weight. These molds were put on a slightly angled shelf, to facilitate the purging and collection of the excess whey.


The salting was carried out by rubbing, in successive stages, the salt on the surfaces of the cheese; when completed, after the first month, the forms rested in a room with good ambient circulating air for the aging and after repeatedly scraping and cleaning, the rinds were oiled and smoothed down, in order to be able to present the cheese in a way that was acceptable for selling. Generally, the cheese was aged no less than 6 to 8 months, but more frequently, cheeses were found that had been aged for 2 or 3 years – a product unmistakable for its organoleptic properties. It was suggested also to conserve the cheese in heaps of millet or in olive oil, to maintain the texture and the delicate flavor.


The French, though famous for their cheese making traditions, at the time did not know the art of producing this type of cooked curd cheese!



Developing Cheese Technology from 1700 to 1900

It was only in 1700s that the technology for transforming milk into cheese became rigorously scientific, thanks to the progress of microbiology, which began with the invention of the microscope.  Antony Van Leeuvenloek, a Dutch scholar who lived from 1632 to 1723, was the first to observe microorganisms with the help of a rudimentary microscope that he constructed. 


From these early discoveries on, microbiology was able to render innocuous harmful bacteria and make good microorganisms work for the benefit of man. The dane Emil Cristian Hasten (1842-1909) was able to study the industrial fermentation that occurred in the technical cheese factory by using cultures in order to ferment the lactose in milk and gradually improve the process of fermentation and obtain a quality product that had a consistent quality. It is really towards the middle of the 19th century that the old system of cheese production changed in radical ways.


The activity of artisanal cheese making slowly detached itself from the factory, where cheese making had its ancient origins, in order to become, with progress, a flourishing industry. The invention of the refrigerator, in 1865, and successively, towards the end of the century, the introduction of the pasteurization technique, contributed to the conservation and to the diffusion of milk and also food. In England, Joseph Hording, one of the most famous Cheddar cheese producers, after 1850 he notably improved the quality of cheese, bringing some innovations in the technology.


The most important of which was that of using the acidified whey from the previous day, before adding the rennet; such methods spread in particular in Canada and the United States, where they substituted the acidified whey with cultures of lactic bacteria. In 1877, the Swedish engineer Gustav De Laval presented the first rudimentary centrifuge, which came to be perfected, obtaining such a considerable saving of time and of work in the separation of the cream; it resulted in the spread of the consumption of butter – until then it could be obtained only by the cream rising to the top of the liquid. Besides the cheese and the butter, they started producing condensed milk, with addition of sugar in order to conserve the milk even longer, and powdered milk, produced for the first time in 1855 with a  system patented in England.


Towards the end of the 1800 and the beginning of the 20th centuries the progress of microbiology in cheese production has allowed to single out and study specific microorganisms present in the milk and in the rennet. Besides some harmful species, there are individual microorganisms that are ideal for cheese making, and are responsible for the best fermentation and aging processes.  In the year 1890, with a method of rapid analysis, determining the content of fat in the milk was accomplished; this discovery was very useful for the valuation of the milk and for the control of fraudulent milk. It is with the progress of the techniques and the science of dairying that the art of producing cheese became a specialized industry addressing to improve the return of production and to maintain constantly the quality of the commercial product.


These are all modern techniques and they have permitted the cheese industry to grow enormously, but there are still many utilize these methods while not moving away from the type of traditional production that is synonymous with authenticity, freshness, aroma – reminding us of nature, uncontaminated.



Varieties of Cheese

There are many different types of cheese from all over the world – if one stopped to count, you could find more than 2,000 varieties; also in Italy, which produces a number of notable cheeses, there are estimated to be around 300-400 varieties. Some cheeses are known for the economy of the region and often they are the best quality. Most of the milk that is used for cheese making comes from cows, but the milk of other animals is used as well, in particular goats, sheep, buffalo, reindeer, camels, etc.


Each type of milk has its own characteristics that influence the flavor and the aroma of the cheese; for example the milk of the goat is more rich with fatty acids like capronico, caprilico and caprico, making a cheese that is stronger tasting than those produced with cow’s milk.


Also the color of the cheese is influenced by the milk that varies with the species, the breed, and the type of food. In particular sheep and buffalo milk is poor or lacking in yellow pigment (beta carotene), which is otherwise present in cow’s milk.


Although there are many known varieties of cheeses, the basic method of cheese making is unique and based on the coagulation of the acid or rennet of the milk. The curds obtained in this way can go through different phases of work that, according to how they will be prepared, either for fresh cheeses (e.g. ricotta, mascarpone), soft cheeses (taleggio, italico), hard cheeses (grana padano, pecorino), or spun-paste cheeses (mozzarella, provolone).


The basic technology used in cheese making can only produce a few dozen types of cheese.  The other varieties present in the market use similar technology for their production, varying only a few details of production or in the method of aging so that the cheeses have diverse organoleptic properties (including taste, color, texture and aroma).



Review of Italian Cheeses

During this study on cheese, besides the great Italian cheeses that have had recognition and fame throughout the world, we would like to review the range of local cheeses whose history and traditions have survived the rapid progress of industrialization. These cheeses are the testimonial of antique rural and dairy traditions, a rediscovered world reminiscent of a time when nature was uncontaminated.

We now proceed to study the principal Italian cheese, beginning in Northern Italy.


Cheese of Northern Italy

Lombardia

Bergamo: Branzi – Formai de Mut – Formaggella della Val di Scalve – Formaggio del Gleno – Stracchino dei Campanelli.

Brescia: Bagoss – Silter – Formagelle – Uso monte (o nostrano) – Salva – Casolet.

Como: Caprino – Fiorone – Quartirolo di monte – Fontal – Formagella di caglio – Straness – Semüda – Zingherlin.

Cremona: Pepatino.

Milano: Mascarpone o Mascherpone – Crescenza – Pannerone – Cremino – Formaggini. Bel Paese – Italico – Grana Lodigiano.

Pavia: Formaggio di Menconico.

Sondrio: Bitto – Scimudin – Formaggi d’alpe – Casera.

Varese: Zincarlin – Caprino.


Piemonte

Alessandria: Montebore.

Asti: Robiola di Roccaverano – Robiola di Cocconato.

Cuneo: Castelmagno – Bra – Acceglio – Ormea – Nostrano del Monregalese – Robiola piemontese – Robiola di Carmagnola – Robiola di Bossolasco – Robiola del Bec – Sora – Testum – Murazzano – Sbrinz – Brus – Raschera – Tomino di Melle – Valcasotto.

Novara: Battelmatt – Grasso d’alpe – Mezza pasta – Orsera – Spress – Gorgonzola.

Torino: Toma – Tomino – Tometta – Toma di Carmagnola – Prato nevoso – Caprella – Cevrin di Coazze - Moncenisio - Paglierina – Sargnon – Reblochon –Caprino piemontese.

Vercelli: Caprino di Rimella – Motta – Sargnon – Tumet – Toma di piode – ‘LCravot.


Valle D’Aosta

Aosta: Fontina – Toma – Tomino – Salignon Aostino.


Liguria

Genova: Prescinseva – Casareccio di Gorretto.

Imperia: Pecorino delle navette.

La Spezia: Formaggi alpestri.

Savona: Primo sale.


Trentino Alto Adige

Bolzano: Regantino – Ortler – Alpiflora – Kampill – Eisachtaler –Burgeiser – Sextener – Stilfer deutschnofner – Toblacher – Tilsiter – Sterzinger semigrasso – Burgeiser grasso – Grauer – Ziegerkase – Vllfettkase.

Trento: Spressa – Nostrano della valle di Fassa e del Primiero – Nostrano de casel – Vezzena – Marlengo – Sarner – Asiago d’allevo e pressato – Puzzone di Moena – Dolomiti.


Veneto

Belluno: Sigher Casatella o <<Tosela>>.

Treviso: Casatella – Pannarello – Pecorino di Pra del Gai – Morlacco.

Venezia: Piave.

Verona: Stracon.

Vicenza: Asiago d’allevo e pressato – Pressato – Grasso di monte – Malga.


Friuli Venezia Giulia

Gorizia: Pecorino del Selz – Zuz – Montasio.

Trieste: Liptaver – Montasio.

Udine: Montasio – Asin o Asio – Latteria


Emilia Romagna

Bologna: Castel S. Pietro – Pecorino del Frignano – Casatella – Raviggiolo.

Parma e Reggio Emilia: Parmiggiano Reggiano.

Piacenza: Grana Padano – Provolone – Squaquaron.


Cheeses of Central Italy

Toscana

Firenze: Pecorino toscano – Caciotta – Raviggiolo.

Grosseto: Caciotta toscana.

Lucca: Pecorino della Garfagnana – Brancolino.

Pisa: Baccellone.

Siena: Marzolino.


Umbria

Cascia: Caciofiore – Raviggiolo – Caciotta.

Perugia: Pecorino di Norcia.


Marche

Ancona: Bagiotto – Pecorino di Fabriano.

Ascoli Piceno: Caciofiore delle Marche – Pecorino di Monte Rinaldo – Ovolina – Silano – Appassita – Cacetto.

Macerata: Ovolina Silano – Cacetto Tomino – Nocioline.

Pesaro: Casciotta d’Urbino – Squaquaron – Slattato – Raviggiolo.


Lazio

Frosinone: Treccione – Maialino – Aversana – Caciotta al peperoncino.

Latina: Noccioline – Caciotta al peperoncino.

Rieti: Caciottine – Scamorza - Mozzarella – Canestrato – Ovolina.

Roma: Pecorino romano – Ricotta romana – Caciotta romana – Provatura – Romanello – Settecolli.

Viterbo: Palanzanella.


Abruzzo & Molise

Campobasso: Scamorza.

Chieti: Nodino – Fior di latte – Silano.

L’Aquila: Silano – Appassita – Pecorino abruzzese – Caciofiore aquilano – Cambese – Scanno – Burrino – Burrata – Bocconcini di panna.

Pescara: Pecorino abruzzese – Appassita – Caciotta.

Teramo: Pecorino del montone – Casillo.


Cheeses of Southern Italy

Campania

Avellino: Provoletta – Bebè.

Caserta: Formaggetta di Capra – Saticulano – Burriello.

Napoli: Caciocavallo – Provola – Giuncata – Cacetto – Cicciillo Sorrentino – Salamino – Fior di ricotta – Mandarinetto.

Salerno: Mozzarella – Fior di latte – Ovolina – Bocconcini – Treccia – Nodino – Mozzarella – Uova di bufala – Caciocavalluccio - Aversana.


Puglia

Bari: Burrata – Cacioricotta – Canestrato pugliese – Ricotta forte – Pallone di Gravina.

Brindisi: Pecorino del brindisino.

Foggia: Bocconcini alla panna – Caciofiore pugliese – Caciotta pugliese – Pecorino dauno –Foggiano – Stracchino del tavoliere – Ricotta marzotica – Cavalluccio di caciocavallo – Campesina – Uova di bufala.

Lecce: Pecorino leccese – Ricotta schianta – Mercia.

Taranto: Manteca – Treccia dura.


Basilicata

Matera: Vaccino.

Potenza: Moliterno – Ricotta uso Moliterno – Caciotta di Moliterno – Provolone – Mozzarella al prosciutto.


Calabria

Catanzaro: Crotonese – Mozzarella alla panna – Juncata.

Cosenza: Raschio.

Reggio Calabria: Ricotta calabrese – Ricotta calabra condita – Burrino.


Sicilia

Agrigento: Proforol – Caciocavallo siciliano –Vastedda della Valle del Belice.

Catania: Ricotta – Ricotta infornata – Ricotta salata – Ricotta canestrata – Schiacciata – Pecorino muscio – Fiaschetta – Provola dei Nebrodi.

Enna: Piacentino – Provola dei Nebrodi.

Messina: Calcagno – Canestrato – Canestrato cotto – Tuma siciliana – Primo sale – Maiorchino – Vaccino siciliano – Provola dei Nebrodi.

Palermo: Ricotta secca – Vastedda della Valle del Belice – Vastedda – Pecorino siciliano –Caciocavallo palermitano – Provola delle Madonie.

Ragusa: Caciocavallo ragusano – Pepato.

Trapani: Pecorino siciliano – Vastedda della Valle del Belice.


Sardegna

Cagliari: Semicotto – Fresa – Rigatello sardo – Casu marzu – Su casizzolu – Caprino sardo – Pecorino Romano.

Nuoro: Fiore sardo – Sa Casada – Dolce sardo – Feta – Su casu schidoni – Su callau axedu – Su casu filix – Casu de fitta – Su farrussu.

Oristano: Toscanello Sardo – Caprino Sardo – Raviggiolu – Mazza frissa – Sos ghioghittos de casu.

Sassari: Bonassai – Pecorino affumicato – Pecorino Romano – Misto – Cacio bianco – Gioddu.

 

aTTavola S.r.l.  –  via Roma, 118  –  90041 Balestrate (PA)  –  Italy

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Email: info@attavola.com