In Roncofreddo in the Rubicon valley of Emilia Romagna, the Brancaleoni family, who have traded in the area for five generations, will guide you on a trip through local flavours, first and foremost, that of the cheese called formaggio di fossa.
Arriving in Roncofreddo is in itself a pleasure. Along the road that leads to the village the colours of the olive trees and the stone houses glint in the sun, and before you even get to your destination there is a real sense of perceiving this land’s scent of authenticity and genuineness.
Here every year Renato Brancaleoni, a cheese refiner with an international reputation and Director of ALMA Caseus, repeats an extremely fascinating rite bound in each phase to the timings of nature, ‘Tradition teaches that everything has its own time,’ explains Renato Brancaleoni, ‘and the time to open the “Fossa” (Pit) is November.’
The sandstone pit, 4.30 meters deep, has existed since 1300 and was used in ancient times to preserve wheat. For over two centuries, the Brancaleoni family has used the pit to refine their cheeses following a precise process which begins in the spring with the selection of cheeses: ‘We select only those that have personality and that best express the territory,’ explains Renato; in July the pit is prepared by arranging straw (barley and wheat) along its sides, which protects the cheese and influences its aroma and taste; in early August the cheeses, inserted in bags of virgin cotton, are positioned inside the pit until they fill it completely and then the opening is sealed with a glue of flour and vinegar, leaving it closed until the beginning of November; during this period the strong minerality of the soil and the particular bacterial flora (anaerobic bacteria) give the product unique organoleptic characteristics.
After one hundred days, the seals are broken, the pit is opened, and the 4,500 cheeses are left to rest in its interior. ‘Every time is a surprise,’ says Renato, ‘you never know what the outcome will be. When it’s opened the smell is so strong that the entire village knows that the pit has been opened!.’ After opening the pit is cleaned and closed up until the following year to allow the bacterial charge to reform. Watch the video that shows this unique event!
To assess the result obtained requires eyes and mouth. The flowering of the moulds is an important visual element to gain a first impression of the product, but it is the tasting that dispels any doubt. As Renato Brancaleoni recalls, ‘Refining cheese means teaching them to speak the language of flavours,’ and the Formaggio di Fossa, with its full and persistent flavour, contains a story to be discovered bite after bite, flavour after flavour, thrill after thrill.
Thank’s to ALMA