With the advent of industrialization and technology in Italy from the post-second world war period, more and more people abandoned their country houses to reach the cities. In parallel with this phenomenon, there has been a change of lifestyles that caused the acquisition of new habits, but also the loss of traditions.
One of these losses is the summer pasture of herds and flocks in the huts. If once this activity was born for the need to let the downstream fields rest for the cultivation of the cereals and to valorize the milk just milked with the cheese production, today there are less and less ‘heroic’ realities. The main reason is that this activity needs a lot of men’s work and there are not enough workers. In addition to that, during these years more consumers prefer light and delicate foods instead of strong taste. In fact, mountain cheeses have an unmistakable personality and a unique flavor and scent of alpine herbs. Smelling them, it’s possible to perceive all the fresh grass essences that animals eat, because the milk used for cheesemaking is raw, not pasteurized. Diffused in all the Italian peninsula, mountain cheeses are mostly concentrated in the north, where there are Montasio, a Friuli Venezia Giulia cheese, Fontina, the classic cheese for the Aosta Valley fondue, and Asiago, a Veneto cheese, perfect in combination with the polenta.
In the Ossola Valley, a green area in Alto Piemonte, the mountain cheeses tradition is survived in three products: Ossolano d’Alpe, Caprino Ossolano and Bettelmatt.
Born in the medieval era, the first historical evidence about Ossolano are dated 1006. Once the term ‘ossolano’ was used to indicate all the cheeses useful to being melted, produced with the milk milked in the pasture or in downstream. Today the term indicates only the cheeses produced in downstream, whereas the cheese produced in pasture is called Ossolano d’Alpe. There are still three pastures to produce it, all located at an altitude of over 1.500 meters. The cow’s milk used is mainly of Grigio Alpina, a typical breed, and the aging is not less than two months.
The production of goat cheese in the Ossola Valley, once known for the big production of this fresh cheese, was going towards extinction. Thanks to the help of Lombard breeders and cheesemakers, this tradition has been maintained and nowadays the Caprino Ossolano is still produced from March to November, with raw milk. The small forms, which don’t exceed two ounces, require only three days of maturation.
The Bettelmatt is the rarest cheese in the world (we talked about it here) Born in the XIII century by a Walser representation (a linguistic minority of Germanic origin) established in the valley, it was initially used as a bargaining chip for the payment of rents, mountain grants, and taxes, but also for charity forms.
The merit of this cheese is due to numerous aspects. It is produced only 7-8 weeks each year from the beginning of July to the end of August, in only seven pastures between 1.800 and 2.400 meters in the upper area of the Ossola Valley, and in a limited number of forms, around five thousand each year. The particular taste of this product is due to grass, the Mutellina, typical of the area.
The coveted forms, branded since 2003 to distinguish them from the numerous counterfeits, were transported back to the valley by mule for the excessive height of the mountain pastures and, only in recent years, in a helicopter. A very precious and, above all, a rare delicacy.
Fancy a taste? Take a look at them here