July 3, 2008 / 4:00 PM / 11 years ago

Italy's taleggio cheese seeks to spread its appeal

PALAZZO PIGNANO, Italy (Reuters Life!) - Smelly, square, with a thick pink crust and peppered with mould, Italy’s taleggio is not the prettiest of cheeses, but its makers are hoping it will finally win wider appreciation.

Known for its strong taste and soft texture, taleggio producers are betting on promoting the traditional qualities of a cheese that dates back to the 10th century.

They say models have developed a taste for the cheese

because of its claims to be good for the skin.

The cheese, usually used in home cooking, is now making an appearance in some northern Italian bars, who serve it as a dish come “aperitivo” time, according to a recent study.

“Our wish for the future is that taleggio is appreciated not only where it is made, but also in other regions in Italy and abroad,” said Lorenzo Sangiovanni, the chairman of the consortium of taleggio makers.

Although they no longer let it mature in natural grottos as their ancestors did, taleggio makers in the northern Lombardy and Piedmont regions — grouped in the consortium to guarantee origins and quality — are as loyal as possible to tradition.

In the heart of the taleggio-loving north — in the tiny village of Palazzo Pignano — production begins early for the cheese, which has a brand stamp of three “Ts”, part of the EU’s protected designation of origin scheme.

Fresh milk, which must come from areas no further than 10 kms (6.2 miles) away, arrives at 5 a.m. From there, each step has its specific temperature, humidity levels and duration, which can last from 15 minutes for when rennet is added to the 35 days needed for the cheese to mature.

Makers pasteurize the mixture at 74 Celsius, then add milk enzymes, before the mix is cut into nut-like shapes.

The cheese begins to get its trademark square form — about 20 cm by 20 cm and weighing 1.7-2.2 kg — when it is put in box-like trays in a hot room.

It is then marked with its characteristic “T” stamp, before being submerged in water and salt for 10 hours.

For the cheese to mature, producers recreate conditions similar to the natural grottos used before with a “cold room” where the temperature averages 2-6 Celsius. The cheese will mature for a minimum 35 days, but the process continues until it is served on a plate.

Only paper is used as wrapping as other packaging can spoil the taste, makers say.

“In this way, we are making a product that is alive,” said

Sangiovanni.

“It is easy to understand how even a small variation in the production, even half a degree in the temperature, can cause subtle differences in the final product.”

Writing by Marie-Louise Gumcuhian; editing by Keith Weir

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