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Food and wine specialities of Montefeltro

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

Montefeltro still remains undiscovered by much of the outside world. Its food and wine culture is savoured by the local people and those who are adventurous enough to stray from the traditional tourist path. The food culture here in the region, thanks to the local people and initiatives such as 'Slow Food', remains untouched by globalisation.

We have put together for you a report of Montefeltro’s typical local products – food and wine products that it is impossible to appreciate by reading this article alone. Hopefully, however, you will at some stage be able to sample them for yourselves.

Formaggio di Fossa – Fossa cheese

Fossa cheese gets its name from ‘fossa’ meaning ‘underground pit’. The cheese, a mixed cheese, made up of cow’s and sheep’s milk. Characteristics of the cheese are its irregularity in shape, pale yellow to light brown colour, clear and soft appearance, crumbly texture and sweet, although sometimes rather piquant taste. It owes these characteristics to the three months it spends maturing underground. This tradition is only carried out in two areas: Talamello and Sant’Agata Feltria.

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

The tradition of pitting the cheese was resumed 15 years ago.

Caciotta di Urbino – Caciotta cheese - from Urbino

Caciotta cheese from Urbino dates back to the ducal era and even Michelangelo, who is said to have spoken highly of it. The main area of production was historically and indeed still is that of the Duke of Montefeltro. This delicate soft cheese is made up of 70/80% ewe’s milk and the remainder cow’s milk.

It is also the only cheese from the Marches region which is the proud holder of the DOP (Denominazione di Origine Protetta) certificate. This is a European certificate for the protection and promotion of typical local products. It is granted to those products whose entire manufacturing process takes place in a limited geographic area and where production procedures have remained traditional and unchanged in the course of the centuries.

It can be used in a wide variety of ways in Italian cookery – as a complete meal with homemade bread, for breakfast or snack together with cured meats, cheese or jams and honey, toasted polenta, figs, pears. It can also be used as an accompaniment on top of meat, toast, canapés, tartlets etc) or as a filling for pasta, ‘panzerotti’ (large fried pieces of ravioli filled with cheese, ham and tomato), savoury pies and pizzas. It can be used in starters – soups, gnocchi, pasta, rice and risottos and with vegetables, including mushrooms and truffles.

Pane di Chiaserna – Chiaserna bread

This is a bread sold throughout the province and known throughout Italy, sought after to the extent that people coming from the cities of the north buy up to 10-15 loaves to take back with them and freeze.

The secret of this bread, as with many local regional products, is simplicity and tradition. Simple due to the fact that it is made from water, flour, a little yeast and a bit of dough from the day before (known as ‘impasto madre’ or ‘impasto acido’) and traditional in that it has been made the same way for many years.

Ciambella di Cantiano – Cake from Cantiano, typically ring-shaped

This cake is characteristic of the period of Lent. In Cantiano housewives prepare the ‘ciambella’ mixture at home and then take it to be boiled and baked in the local bakery. Ingredients used are eggs, flour, sugar, anise, mistrà and oil. The cake is particular as it is made without yeast. The border of this cake is cut into little pieces to resemble the crown of thorns. If you happen to be in this village at this time you will see delightful sight of old women coming and going with their cake tins.

Visner – Cherry liqueur

“Visner” is a cherry liqueur, made of cherries, part stoned and part whole, mixed with red wine, alcohol and sugar and then left to ferment for at least two months, after which it is filtered and left to settle for 5/6 months, then bottled. It is scarlet red in colour and is sweet with a strong aroma.

Today Visner is still produced in Cantiano, Sassocorvaro, Urbino and Cagli.

Marrone di Montefeltro –Montefeltro Chestnuts – from Alta Valmarecchia

A traditional autumnal product of Montefeltro and more specifically the mountain community of Alta Valmarecchia, the larger than average Montefeltro chestnut is listed in the national directory of traditional products. Cultivation of chestnuts in the region is of environmental, social, and economic importance to the region. For the local people, the chestnut has always been of fundamental importance – for the production of flour for bread-making to a gift from the Befana (the old lady who comes on the eve of Epiphany) together with nuts and mandarin oranges for labourers’ children.

The area of cultivation is very limited – around 500 hectares in the Appennines, hence the reason for the Montefeltro chestnut being such a niche product.

Patate rosse – Red-skinned potatoes

This species of potato is from Sombriano. It is of particular interest not only as it is cultivated totally organically, but also as the seeds are re-used year after year for up to ten years. In order to protect the crop against the potato beetle, which is capable of destroying the whole crop, farmers literally take a bucket and shovel and remove the larva manually twice a day.

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