formaggio di fossa

The pit and the glory # 2: "mum, look what happened to our cheese"


The day is gray, unusual event for this 2011 fall, which seems to have forgotten the harsh winters of this place, and is out to promise an impossible spring. I am going the few miles of beautiful, narrow street that separates the freeway E45 from the south, from the small town of Sogliano Al Rubicone.

The countryside is very interesting; hills follow one another, showing off bright colours despite the low light of the afternoon. The road seems to climb every hill, dive in every little hollow, and demands a careful drive in spite of the distracting view. In the distance, perched villages and farms scattered among the scenes of this ancient natural theatre.

The trip takes me away from the flow of disturbing news coming from the chancelleries of Europe these days, and seems to show, once again, that the wisdom of the old order of things  still has much to teach. Sogliano suddenly appears at the top of a hill after a left bend in the distance that reveals Macerata Feltria,  Monte Cerignone, and the imposing size of San Marino.

The village is very small; we are only a few days after the festivity of Santa Caterina, when the “sfossatura”, the opening of the pits takes place trditionally and the village is invaded by the perfumes of mature cheeses and ordes of gourmet. I stop in the café of the central street, already animated by Christmas lights that sincerely seem a little too modern for the context.
While I drink an espresso “corretto"  with Vernelli, I discover from the bartender, that the country has become important only in recent years thanks to the fosse, the pits where

cheese ferments to unexpected flavours. And that the name of the village is so well known nowadays, that a manufacturer of cheese came from Viterbo to open a branch locally, only to be able to write "made in Sogliano” on his products.

My friendly interlocutor, I discover, is himself the owner of one of the certified pits, one of the six gathered and protected by the stringent regulations of the D.O.P  (denomination of protected origin) that oversees the entire production chain of this magnificent product.  I leave for my next visit, not before having promised to call at the museum of cheese.

Marino Brandinelli, my contact in town, is waiting for me in its structure to tell me all I should know about “Formaggio di Fossa”.

The pits are hidden behind an ordinary shop front, leading to a fastidiously clean laboratory where the final sorting and packaging takes place. While reaching the pits room through a stainless steel lift that reminds me of a James Bond film, he anticipates that, while  maturing cheese in sealed underground pits is diffused in other villages between Romagna and nearby Marche, Sogliano can claim and documenthere they ripened cheese since 1485, and if Columbus had known, he could have launch in the U.S. export.  

Finally we get to the pits and he opens one to show me the dimensions: is a truncated cone shape hole in the floor closed by a wooden cover, at least 4 meter deep can hold up to five tons of cheese.

“The whole thing probably started by chance when, in order to hide valuable food from the raids of invaders and robbers, someone decided to put the cheese which is normally kept and wheat grain. After a few months the cheese taken out of the pit was different, and fermentation in the absence of oxygen had produced flavours and aromas of great finesse " 

Later details on old cheese ripening, new cheeses, production, taste, secrets….