Fontina cheese is made from unpasteurized cow's milk. It is processed into a pale straw colored cheese with a firm, creamy texture providing a slightly nutty and buttery flavor. It is produced exclusively in Valle d'Aosta, here, due to the barrier of the Alps, the summer climate is dry. The best characteristics of the grasses and flowers of the mountain enter into the food of the cows, into their milk and, consequently, into the Fontina cheese.
A delicacy of medieval origins
Fontina is legendary for being made first by a mysterious man called Sarvadzo, who revealed the secrets of turning milk into cheese to the inhabitants of Val d'Aosta. The history of Fontina is the history of the Val d'Aosta. The first notes date back to 1200: whereas while there were some who were constructing impregnable castles, someone was paying attention to making life more flavoursome, and so produced the ancestor to the Fontina.... Already cheeses were mentioned in the feudal archives of 1267, and in the Summa Lacticinorum, written in 1477, it is said about Valle d'Aosta: "Here the cheeses are good and the pastures excellent. There are made to medium size, and become stringy when put on the fire or when placed into food". A description of which there gives off already the perfume of the, by now, famous fondue. In the castles of the Valle d'Aosta, there are frescoes in which between dames, cavaliers and warriers there may be seen a medieval bench of cheese sellers on which is recognisable the typical form of Fontina. It is a sign of a tradition - in fact of an art - which in this place has continued for seven centuries and gave flavour to generations of Valle d'Aosta people and their visitors. In 1717 there appeared for the first time the word "fontine", in the register of the expenses of the Charitable Institution of Gran San Bernardo. The same name was also found in a document of 1731, written by Count De Challand, leading figure of one of the most noble and celebrated dynasties of Valle d'Aosta.
The preparation of the Fontina is a recipe which as been handed down through the centuries. It is produced exclusively with full cream milk, not pasturised, from the cow of the breed Valle d'Aosta, feed mainly with green forage in the summer period and with local hay throughout the rest of the year.
The milk is worked within two hours of the milking, to preserve all of its wholesomeness and its perfume. To make it coagulate there is used the rennet of milking calves being prepared directly by the dairyman; within the hour the milk is condensed, worked again to make it homogeneous, and heated to 47-48°C. After the extraction from the cauldron, the curds are immersed in a net and pressed to let drip through slowly the whey, the mixture left is then placed into the moulds which give the cheese its unmistakable form. After 12 hours, the mixture is then taken out of the moulds. Its form is straw white in colour, elastic and soft. The maturing takes place in grottoes cut from the rocks, where the temperature is maintained at 5-10°C, with a level of humidity of at least 90%, to make it mature naturally these precious forms are preserved on pine shelves.
The intervention by man is daily: it needs constant care to realise Fontina. The forms are turned over every day, alternating one day for salting and one for brushing. The scrubbing serves to take away from the crust the layer of mould due to the natural fermentation and to make the crust humid. The approximate period for maturing is 3 months.
The Cooperative Producers of Milk and Fontina began in 1957 to garantee the mark stamped by the Consorzio Produttori Fontina on every form, the "seal of quality". With the knowledgeable way of tapping on the surface of the form, they know the consistency. The operation of coring consists of extracting a "wedge" of cheese to verify the look and the softness. The piece of cheese is folded beween the fingers: if they bend, and the two extremities touch without breaking, then it is worthy to have the mark "fontina".
When shopping for Fontina, always choose one piece stamped by the Consortium. A light brown rind indicates that the Fontina has not aged long; the darker the rind gets, the older it is.
This is an exceptional table cheese, but is also excellent cooked. It is a star in regional dishes like bistecca alla valdostana , the local steak with melted Fontina, and fonduta , a rich cream of melted Fontina garnished with white truffle shavings and poured over polenta or toasted bread. Fontina is also superb over a warm plate of pasta. It is often used as a dessert cheese.
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