Getting up early, I check the train schedule, grab some fruit and head to the station by myself. Tim being otherwise occupied with a virus that is draining his body of all fluids.
The train to Novara is on time and as it makes its way towards the mountains, I notice the frost on the ground. Getting off at the station, the air is chilly so I wrap my scarf around my neck leaving no skin exposed.
It’s my host Angelo
My phone rings and it’s my host, Angelo, from the Consorzio per la Tutela del Formaggio Gorgonzola DOP. The first thing he tells me is that he doesn’t speak English and asks if I speak Italian or French, I answer yes, I speak French and a bit of Italian. He directs me to a small white van parked out front. For the rest of the morning, he speaks mostly Italian and I answer in French.
Latteria Sociale Cameri Coop
The drive to the Latteria Sociale Cameri Coop takes no more than 15 minutes and we spend the time chatting about his love for Canadian writer Alice Munro, and what the area is known for other than Gorgonzola (that would be rice and a little wine).
The Latteria Sociale Cameri Coop employs 25 people and has been producing cheese for 102 years, using milk from neighbouring farms.
Taleggio, Toma, Nivellina, Gorgonzola
They make Taleggio, a semi-soft, washed-rind, smear-ripened cheese that is named after Val Taleggio, Toma, a soft or semi-hard cow’s milk cheese, Nivellina, alternating layers of gorgonzola and mascarpone, but I am here for the Gorgonzola, dolce, and piccante.
Protected Designation of Origin
Gorgonzola is a cow’s milk cheese with a Protected Designation of Origin (DOP). By law and tradition, it can only contain cow’s milk, rennet (from veal), penicillium & salt and be produced in two regions, Lombardy and Piedmont and in certain provinces.
Those provinces are Bergamo, Brescia, Como, Cremona, Lecco, Lodi, Milano, Monza, Pavia and Varese in Lombardy. And in Piedmont it includes Verbano-Cusio-Ossola, Biella, Cuneo, Casale Monferrato, Vercelli and Novara where we are today.
The milk used in making the cheese can only come from these provinces. It takes a minimum of 220 pounds of milk to make one wheel of Gorgonzola and only cheese made in these provinces will have the D.O.P. certificate.
Angelo hands me a bag and tells me to suit up. Inside is a pair of bright blue shoe covers, a white smock, and white hair net. This get up is doing nothing for my self-esteem.
Entering the production room I immediately feel the humidity and I’m now quite happy I’m wearing a hair net to control the volume. The air smells like milk and the temperature is between 20 and 25C with the humidity around 90%. The floor is wet and liquid is dripping off of the perforated tables.
Station to station
As we make our way from station to station Angelo shows me where the milk is pumped in from trucks to the pasteurizing tanks and subsequently to the cauldrons where it is heated at around 30C. This is when they introduce the rennet (made from veal) and penicillin mold.
A curd starts to form and is broken by hand with big forked instruments. The curd is then gathered in cheese cloth and put into molds where it is flipped and left to rest for several hours to rid itself of the whey. At some point in this process, a plastic shape is placed at the bottom to stamp the cheese with the number associated with the factory, for tracking purposes.
Afterward, the cheese goes to an aging room named “Purgatory”, the temperature here is slightly lower at around 20C and humidity of 95%. It stays here for three to four days until the whey is cleared.
From here the moulds are replaced with a ring of flat wooden pieces to help the cheese keep its shape. And it is moved to the salting room where it will stay for a few days, being salted several times with sea salt and then moved to an aging room.
Entering the first aging room I’m stunned at the smell. It’s fresh and has an odour I can only describe as pound cake. Here the cheese is pierced from the top and bottom with large metal needles. This is to let the air in and to give the mold a chance to develop, creating long blue veins in the cheese.
Second aging room
We visit a second aging room where the cheese is a slightly older and the air has the distinct smell of Gorgonzola, sharp and spicy. Gorgonzola is aged for around 70 days for dolce and at least 120 days for piccante.
The less strong dolce makes up 90 percent of the Gorgonzola produced therefore the piccante, a mere 10 percent. I am told that the cheese produced in this medium sized caseificio (Italian for cheese factory) is mostly for export to France and Japan with some staying in Italy. At this point, I joke that everyone knows Italians keep the best product for themselves. I think the humour is somewhat lost in translation.
Amount of Gorgonzola produced
To give you an idea of the amount of Gorgonzola produced in this factory, they have 16 aging rooms holding approximately 4000 wheels each and this is considered a medium-sized factory.
At the end of the visit, our host cuts two rounds of cheese, one dolce, and one piccante and lets me taste each. The dolce is a bit runny with a taste that is mild, slightly sweet with veins that are blueish green. The piccante looks dryer, has darker veins and a spicy taste with a subtle bite.
Back to the station
On our way back to the station Angelo decides to take me to the Consortium office. He says that since Tim is sick and not able to come, I need to bring him some cheese to taste when he feels better. I don’t argue, there are much worse things in life than being gifted Gorgonzola.
If you want to buy Gorgonzola that is certified Protected Designation of Origin, look for the red and yellow seal and the letters DOP. This and the “g” guarantee that it was made in the way that is true to tradition.
Disclosure: My tour of the Latteria Sociale di Cameri was organized by the Consorzio per la Tutela del Formaggio Gorgonzola DOP. They were kind enough to show me how the real Gorgonzola is made and answer my questions. Other than technical information the opinions in this post are my own.