It’s 8,30 in the morning and Marco, his brother Mario and a couple of assistants are already at work from one hour. Marco yearns “Good morning” from the bottom of the Fossa, one of the two his family owns since the 50’s. He is concentrated and very careful; a mistake in settling the cheeses, can waste all the rest. The result of a working year is in his hands and many cheese producers trust his since years.
Marco Pellegrini: the secrets of the fossa cheese
The fossa cheese is disciplined by a strict rule: before arriving to the final product, every step is tracked. The sheep or the cows breeding, what they eat, how the milk is treated, which is the producer. The DOP (Denominazione di Origine Protetta) means that what you are eating is guaranteed by a rule called “disciplinare”.
The fossa cheese id a DOP and Marco follow the rules in a very precise way: every producers has a code that is put on a white plastic label. The tissue bag that contains the cheeses are numbered so as to recognize every producers when the cheese comes out.
Every bag contains 5 cheeses, 2 kilos each, that is the maximum size in order to obtain a good product. Marco manages with care the ten and ten 10 kilos bags. That is stunning: the hot, the effort, the lack of air down there makes this work a real hard one.
How to be an Infossatore
The work of “infossatore” begins one week before. Fossas are holes in the ground built by the peasants at the time of the Malatesta family governance in XIV century. The tradition has consolidated the techniques and the ways to set the fossa before putting the cheese.
The tuff is the principal material of the fossa, it keeps the humidity and the right temperature inside. The second element is the hay. The fossas are covered with at least 15 bales of hay. Hay is the second secret of the fossa cheese, it gives the special taste and also keeps the temperature constant.
This is also a very important step: the covering of the fossa must absolutely be complete, no holes or pieces not covered.
The cheese will rest here for about 4 months and no one knows exactly if, when it comes out, it will be god or not.
Arriving to Sogliano is a mystic experience, especially in the time of the morning: the Rubicon Valley, one of the fifth of this area of Romagna starts from Savignano, which assume to be the place where the Rubicon river (the one where Cesar through the dices) is born. Sun is light clear and climbing up the hills surrounding the State Road is a gift of nature. San Marino stands in the skyline together with the hills and their castles on the top.
Marco keeps on working. A winch with a box goes up and down carrying the cheeses. There is a precise order: first of all the more mature ones which are stronger and thicker and, little by little, the squashy ones, until the fossa is full. It takes all the morning.
Fossa cheese has a strong smell. Before tasting, it will give you a real stroke, but that is something you wll soon forget as soon as you put a little bite in your mouth: a sensational rainbow of tastes that will conquer you.
Some of those come out this morning: a mix of pecorino cheese, hay, herbs that makes me imagine the final result.
One very important thing to say about the cheese is that almost every cheese can go to the fossa, but the result cannot be the same. The best cheeses are Pecorinos, cow milk cheeses or a mix of the two. This year a producer put an Asiago. We will see in November.
Filling the fossa
The first level is already covered. On the bottom of the fossa there is a wooden layer and under that a drain channel that takes away all the fat that cheeses are losing in the months. Fossa production is a no waste one: hay returns to the producer that uses it in the stable, the bags goes to the recycle industry.
It’s midday, the work is done. Marco closes the fossa with a cover of chuck. Now we just only have to wait.
I will be here in November to the opening of the fossa! Stay tuned.
Disclosure: thanks to Marco and Mario Pellegrini who hosted me this time and also in the past, during a visit with some international bloggers. http://www.formaggiodifossa.it