Gorgonzola is a strong flavoured, blue veined cheese that has been made for centuries in the town that bears the same name. Gorgonzola is a commune in the province of Milan and although it isn't known when the cheese was first made here, legend has it that it was in 879 AD. However, it wasn’t until the nineteenth century that the production of gorgonzola grew considerably and the cheese began to be exported.
This white cheese with characteristic blue veins running through it is made from un-skimmed cow’s milk. Gorgonzola can be buttery or firm in texture, crumbly and quite salty with a strong bite from its veining. In 1996 gorgonzola was awarded DOP (Denominazione di Origine Protetta) status which means that it is protected by the European Union and must only be produced under strict regulations. This means that gorgonzola must be locally made from cow’s milk using traditional methods, thus preserving a high quality food product. Currently there are about forty cheese dairies that produce gorgonzola ranging from small family business to large commercial operations. However, no matter what size the dairy is, this cheese still needs a great deal of manual handling. There are two main types of gorgonzola that are both made with the same regulations. One is a sweet variety that is creamy, soft and slightly spicy. The other is a strong hard cheese, more consistent with the crumbly cheeses of French origin.
Today gorgonzola is only allowed by law to be produced in the northern Italian regions of Piemonte and Lombardy. The process begins with whole cow’s milk, to which a starter bacteria is added, followed by spores of the mould Penicillium Glaucum. Once the milk curdles, the curd is gently cut and removed from the whey. The curd is then gathered in hemp sieve clothes and then put into cylindrical wooden moulds 20-32cm in size without being pressed. Each mould holds between fourteen and fifteen kilos of curd. When the curd hardens slightly, the cloth is taken away to allow the cheese to ‘bleed’ (get rid of the whey) for a few hours, until it contains the perfect level of acidity. It is then stored in small aging store rooms kept at a constant 20°C/22°C with a humidity of 95% for three to four days. After the whey has completely cleared, the cheese is salted with great care and expertise, then left to age for approximately sixty days. During the first twenty days of aging, the cheese is poked with large metal rods to let air into the inner paste. This process allows the blue mould to naturally develop, creating the blue-green veins that it is well known for. Once gorgonzola is made, it must be branded with the name of the manufacturer at the place of production as required by law.
Having such an intense and unique flavour, gorgonzola is perfect on a simple slice of bread. However its flavours also make it an ideal focal ingredient in pizza, pasta and risotto dishes. Gorgonzola can also be paired with other, less spicy cheeses and is an essential ingredient in ‘Pasta ai Quattro Formaggi’ (pasta of four cheeses). It is the perfect accompaniment to the earthy flavour of walnuts, or the subtle sweetness of figs and pears. The list of complimentary ingredients is endless and experimenting with this uniquely flavoured cheese will surely bring many delicious moments.
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