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If there is a cheese for which it can be said that there is no "middle ground" it is Gorgonzola: either you're crazy about it or you can't stand it. The numbers tell us that it is well appreciated, as it is the third most popular Italian cheese based on cow's milk after the two types of Grana cheese, with € 720 million in turnover and 34% intended for foreign markets. Since the last century, some cheese wheels have reached annually the royal family in Westminster, where it is considered a delicacy.
Gorgonzola belongs to the of "herbaceous" category of cheeses, which are those produced by a dairy processing technique that involves the growth of mold in the cheese paste. This entirely Italian product comes in two versions: sweet (dolce) and creamy, and spicy (piccante).
A bit of history
A DOP (Protected Designation of Origin) product since 1996, Gorgonzola has been protected since 1970 by a consortium based in Novara, in the region of Piedmont. This Consortium comprised of 35 dairies, only admits milk from bovine farms in the 16 provinces distributed between Lombardy and Piedmont for production. Only this milk can become real Gorgonzola. Its production is very ancient and linked to a small town near Milan, which has the same name as cheese.
How is Gorgonzola made?
Gorgonzola is produced throughout the year, but its consumption drops noticeably in the summer, to then resume in the fall. It is made from whole pasteurized cow's milk, rennet and salt, with the addition of penicillum mold spores. Brought to 30 degrees, the milk coagulates and the curd is cut in subsequent steps. It is then transferred to sheets and left to clean on sloped tables. From there it passes through the fuselage for another 24 hours, where the cheese is periodically turned. At this point, the marking of origin of the cheese takes place, along with salting, which is a very important step.
Finally, the 12 kg wheels are placed into cells with high humidity at 4 degrees Celsius. The wheels will rest here for 50 days for sweet Gorgonzola, and 80 for spicy. After about 15 days, the addition of microorganisms creates a series of chemical reactions that result in the formation of mold with green-blue veins. These microorganisms, called "starters", only form when in contact with oxygen, which is why holes are made in the wheels. Large metal needles create holes and allow the air to penetrate inside, creating fungal cultures with the typical Gorgonzola flavor and intense smell. Combinations of specific penicillium are used for the spicy type.
After two months of ripening, the wheel is removed from the wooden clamps, cut into two and then covered with a layer of aluminum foil. The final shape is cylindrical. The original Gorgonzola must bear the CG logo of the Consortium in order to distinguish it from counterfeit products, which is very frequent in the case of this specific Italian cheese. Instead of being added, in the past the mold occurred naturally, having formed when holes were made while being aged in caves or in rooms with high humidity. Some artisans still use this method.
How to enjoy Gorgonzola at its best
Gorgonzola is a very versatile cheese that can be enjoyed alone, spread on a slice of hot bread or a crunchy white celery stalk, but it can also be easily paired. It is great on pasta and pizza, as well as a base for sauces to accompany meat and vegetables. It can also be interesting as element for dessert. It blends very well with mushrooms and truffles, or more simply with walnuts or a spoonful of flavored honey.
In recent years, Chef Cannavacciuolo, spokesperson of the Consortium, has created many recipes that enhance it. It is used to create renowned dishes such as Pasta and Flowers, Gorgonzola and Sliced Anchovies, Gorgonzola Ravioli, Infusion of Melon and Grated Celery and even Cream of Topinambur, Chocolate and Gorgonzola. This cheese pairs perfectly with structured, robust and full-bodied red wines.