domenica 17 novembre 2013

Formaggio di Fossa - underground treasures in Sogliano

A foggy Saturday is not the best way to set out on a journey, anyway we start.

Destination: Sogliano al Rubicone, over the hills of Cesena, in the heart of Romagna.
The first evidences of human settlings date back to 2500 B.C., but the village is famous for the Malatesta domination in the Middle Age and for its mentions in Giovanni Pascoli's poems.
But today we are here to discover an underground treasure: Formaggio di Fossa di Sogliano D.O.P., or pit cheese.
In the European Union, Formaggio di Fossa di Sogliano D.O.P. denomination has been recognized since 2009.
The original pit cheese is produced in the area of Forlì-Cesena, Rimini, Ravenna, Pesaro-Urbino; Ancona; Macerata; Ascoli Piceno and part of the Province of Bologna (Borgo Tossignano, Casalfiumanese, Castel San Pietro Terme, Castel del Rio, Dozza, Fontanelice, Imola, Loiano, Monghidoro, Monterenzio, Pianoro).
In the past, pits were excavated inside the houses, in the tuff stone, and used to preserve corn.
The technique of making Formaggio di Fossa dates back to the 15th century. Originally, people used to hide the cheese in the pits from pillagers and taxmen, when they discovered the particular taste that the pit gave to the cheese. 

The processing technique.

Pits have a conic shape and they're stuffed with straw before the placement of the cheese.
The cheese is matured at least 30 days before the laying in the pits. 
Then, it is wrapped in cloth bags and placed in the pit, which is then closed off entirely while the cheese matures for an additional 90 days. 
The sealing of the pit limits the oxygen available to the cheese, enabling a process of anaerobic fermentation.
During the staying in the pits, the cheese can lose up to 15% of its weight and change its shape beacuse of the pression of the other cheese. After being removed from the pit, the cheese is allowed to ripen for an additional three months.

The cheese.
Besides Formaggio di Fossa di Sogliano, we have to talk about the pit cheese matured with the traditional technique.
The difference is in the provenience of the cheese: if the cheese comes from an area external to the one recognized by the denomination, it can't be called Formaggio di Fossa di Sogliano, but pit cheese matured with the traditional Sogliano technique. 
Some producers are not happy about this denomination, as a cheese can be called "di Sogliano" even if it has matured 50 km away from the village, so they have decided to renounce the D.O.P. denomination, but producing with the traditional technique.
The original pit cheese is made with cow's or sheep's milk or mixed cow's and sheep's milk, and it can be pasteurised or unpasteurised.
The main difference is in the taste, also depending on the time of seasoning before the laying in the pits. 
In general, the cow's cheese has a salty and sourish flavour, with a bitter final note, the sheep's cheese has an aromatic and spicy flavour, and the mixed cheese has a balanced flavour, with a bitterish taste.
Moreover, the cheese doesn't presents any distinction between the rind and the pulp, so every part is edible, except in case of spots of fat on the surface that can be gently scraped off.

How to taste Formaggio di Fossa di Sogliano D.O.P.
Depending on the seasoning and the milk used, the cheese matches perfectly with wines, honey and preserves.
These cheese matches with flavoured white wines, such as Rambela, Falanghina, or Bianco di Sicilia, or Sardinian wines, but also strong red wines such as Sangiovese di Romagna.
Producers suggest to taste them also with delicated honey, for example acacia and linden. Avoid the combination with chestnut and sunflower honey, as they have a strong flavour, so it would cover the cheese aromas.
About preserves and jams...try it with Savor, or Fig Caramels.
The pit cheese is perfect in food preparations, such as tortelli or gnocchi, but also with lamb meat.

More photos:

Thanks to:
Riccardo - GPS and photo assistant 

Ristorante La Gallia, Strigara di Sogliano al Rubicone, +39 0541948603