I had intended to post a bit more about the contents of the package I got from Italy, but too much got eaten before I even had a chance to take a picture. Sometimes it's quite hard to resist a fridge full of delicious food, only waiting for you to bite into it. Something did survive the slaughter, though: half a Formaggio di Fossa di Sogliano cheese. Given my fascination with fermented foods, formaggio di fossa is one of my favourites: it's twice fermented!
What makes this cheese so peculiar is the way it is made. The production process starts in the same way as for most cheeses. Ferment is added to milk (ewe's), the curd is cut and processed as for hard cheeses. The finished cheeses are then aged between one and three months. At this point the cheese undergoes the "fossa" ageing that produces the typical aroma. Three or more cheeses are tied together and inserted in a cloth sac. These sacs are used to fill up the fosse, ancient underground granaries dug in tufo stone (a yellow porous volcanic stone). The fosse are closed and the cheese left to ripen 80-100 days. The oxygen inside the fossa is rapidly used up and this promotes a secondary anareobic fermentation which produces short chain fatty acids, which are responsible for the flavour of the cheese. Traditionally the fosse are opened on the 25th of November, St Catherine's day. The cheeses are removed, cleaned and are then ready for sale.
There are quite a few theories on how this ripening method developed. Some argue it was only the logical way for farmers to store the surplus cheese produced in summer for the winter. Others have a nice story involving a voracious Italian nobleman and a stingy farmer. The first story is probably closer to the truth, but I like the former better.In any case this tradition probably goes back to the XV century. Today Fossa cheese is quite trendy in Italy. That is actually so much the case that cheese producers outside the Fossa di Sogliano and Ambra di Talamello classical denominations have tried to reproduce the method. These cheaper fossa cheeses are not bed but can't compare with the complex flavours of the original.
So how does this cheese taste? A friend once described it as a blend of ripe pungent pecorino, earthy Parmigiano, and piquant ripe Provolone. Another opinion is that it smells very much like stinky sneakers, but those holding this opinion have no clue about cheese anyway ;-). Fossa cheese has a very typical aroma, which reminds of humus and has a pleasantly bitter aftertaste. It is by no means a cheese for the timid cheese eater. It has a strong wide and smelly personality. I like to eat it pure, maybe with a drop of honey on top and a nice red wine but it is quite often used in recipes from Romagna, such as passatelli.