WHAT IS FORMAGGIO DI FOSSA?
The Italian name of this little known cheese translates as “cheese of the pit.” It is made from either cow or a cow/sheep’s milk. Originally in the 13th century these subterranean silos were used to store grain. But farmers started hiding their precious cheese in their underground granarys every time unwelcome guests came to visit. It turned out that the sandstone walls helped maintain an ideal temperature and humidity. And the lack of oxygen during aging created a superb new cheese! To prevent bad bacteria from gaining a foothold during ripening, straw was first burned in the cave to sterilize it. Cheeses were then covered in straw and the 6 meter (12 feet) deep cave was sealed. In the early days, people would occasionally suffocate to death when digging out their ripened cheeses. Now each November air is pumped down into the pit while farmers work.
WHERE IS FORMAGGIO DI FOSSA MADE?
Almost all of this cheese is produced in the town of Sogliano al Rubicone in the province of Emilia Romagna. This area is also home to other such Italian greats as Grana Padano, Parmesan Reggiano and traditional balsamic vinegar.
CROSSING THE RUBICON
In northeastern Italy not far from the town of Sogliano there lies a shallow stream called the Rubicon. It is the northern boundary for the city of Rome. And in 49 B.C. Julius Caesar marched the XIII Legion across it, against the Roman Senate’s decree. The emperor instead chose to plunge Rome into a civil war. To this day the phrase “crossing the Rubicon” is an expression meaning to cross a point of no return.
WHAT CAN I PAIR WITH FORMAGGIO DI FOSSA?
This is a cheese with a bit of a bite, so look to wines with a strong backbone and good body. Reds like a Barolo, Barbaresco, Brunello, fortified wines or even hoppy beer are good companions. Just a note of caution, if the cheese is paired with a jam, honey or balsamic you’re no longer pairing the same wine to the same flavor profile. For Italian cheese flights, keep it simple with a nice Grana Padano and mozzarella di bufala, two other Italian classics. If you want to go more international for your cheese tour, choose unique treasures from neighboring countries like a French Cantal and a Spanish Garrotxa.