Fontina DOP: an ancient cheese from Valle d'Aosta
Fontina DOP is a fantastic cheese from Valle D’Aosta region in the north-west of Italy, which origins date back to the XIII century. Ancient manuscripts, in fact, mentioned a florid cheesemaking craft in Valle d'Aosta in 1270 aC already, but the first script mentioning the term "fontina" does not show up until 1717.
Fontina DOP is made with unpasteurised milk from the native red spotted cows that graze in the beautiful meadows at the foot of Valle d’Aosta Alps. The maturation process is still carried out in natural caves following the ancient tradition and it lasts 4 - 5 months.
The "Cooperativa Produttori Latte e Fontina" in Valle d'Aosta region has been managing the cave ripening of Fontina produced by the members of the cooperative for the past 50 years. In 1996 Fontina obtained the Protected Designation of Origin which ensures the authenticity of the marked wheels.
Fontina presents a greasy, compact, brownish crust and a flattened cylindrical shape with flat faces. The average weight of a Fontina wheel is around 8 to 10 kg. The diameter is 30-45 cm and the height 7 - 10 cm.
Fontina is an incredibly rich cheese due to the purity of the forage the cows eat (fresh grass and hay) and this richness gives this cheese an unmistakable pleasant delicate flavour and a soft and elastic texture.
How Fontina is made:
During the summer season the production is carried out directly in the pastures on the mountains, while from December to May production moves to the creameries and dairies in the lower areas of the region.
The production of Fontina starts from the raw material, using whole milk only, coming straight from the cows and respecting the traditional cheesemaking process. The milk is cooked in large copper cauldrons, then calf rennet and enzymes are added to stimulate the coagulation which results in the formation of curd. The fresh wheels are the salted and placed in natural caves where the maturation takes place. These caves dug straight into the mountains ensure the perfect conditions for the ripening, with a constant temperature of around 10°C and a high humidity rate. During the maturation period, which lasts around 4-5 months, skilled cheesemakers carefully brush and turn the wheels to ensure the products will have all the characteristics required by the PDO regulation in order to be marked as Fontina Valle d'Aosta DOP.
Fontina in the kitchen:
Fontina DOP is the main ingredient of the famous “fonduta”, the traditional Alpine dish made of melted cheese, perfect to warm you up during the cold winter nights.
Fontina is a very versatile cheese and thanks to its mild but rich flavour it makes the perfect snack paired with some vegetables, but it can also become a fantastic ingredient for a tasty aperitivo with salumi. In general, Fontina can be use to add a hint of flavour to any recipe involving the use of cheese and it is perfect to experiment new interesting combinations in the kitchen!