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A Speciality from Montefeltro: 'fossa' or 'pit' cheese

by Joanne Birnbaum — last modified 2008-06-20 13:43

This precious cheese is a speciality of Talamello and Sant'Agata Feltria in Montefeltro. Find out why this cheese is compared to gold and how it is used by the Italians in their cooking.

What does it look like?
The most important feature of the product is the irregularity of its shape. Its colour varies from pale yellow to light brown and the cheese is clear and soft. The texture is crumbly and the taste is sweet, sometimes somewhat piquant.

Why is this cheese so interesting?
'Fossa' (meaning underground pit) cheese owes its characteristics to the three months it spends maturing underground. It owes its distinct taste to the vacuum environment which is created in the sealed pit. Inside the temperature remains constant at between 17 and 20°c throughout the entire three months of maturing, whilst the humidity reaches 100%.

In the summer the pits are prepared in a tradional way, using natural materials: first they are cleaned and dried out with a fire of straw and dry twigs. Then the walls are covered with a structure made of wood and canes lined with straw. The cheese, a mixed cheese, made up of cow's and sheep's milk, is then put in the so-called 'fosse' to mature for a period of around three months. Once filled, the pits are closed with panels and plaster, and await the re-opening in November, when the cheese has finally matured. At this stage visitors may come and see the pits as they are gradually emptied. Anyone who visits will be amazed at the amber colour of the sandstone, the intense odour of tartufo as well as the absence of humidity. The tradition of pitting the cheese was resumed 15 years ago.

Where exactly are these pits?
The tufa pits in which the cheese is conserved are few and well preserved and almost as precious as gold mines. They are found sparsely in the Talamello and Sant'Agata Feltria territories, two villages in the hinterland of Pesaro, bordering Romagna.

The origins come from the legend
According to the legend, in the 15th century, in order to defend themselves from plunderers, farmers hid their provisions in the tufo pits. In November, once the raids had finished, they unearthed their supplies and discovered that the cheese had changed.

Fossa cheese in Italian cookery
Being a cheese that provokes indulgence and reflection, fossa cheese should be savoured a bit at a time, chewing slowly.

Its main use is relatively simple; grated and tossed in the pan with pasta and gnocchi. Another way to eat it is together with fig jam or honey, which dampen the strength without spoiling the aroma. It is best accompanied by a sweet wine - Passito (for example Marsala) or Vin Santo, or alternatively, a good aged red wine.

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