Today we’re talking about capers from Pantelleria, tiny but very rich in flavour. But there’s more, we’ll also discover caper berries, caper leaves and the caper production farm that brings Pantelleria’s tradition to the world. Ready to go?
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Creamy and fresh Quartirolo lombardo cheese
Today we are going to talk about PDO Quartirolo cheese, a true gem of the cheesemaking tradition of Lombardy, as well as a very ancient and delicious cheese that can be served in thousands of finger-licking ways.
It is a fatty, soft cheese with a short ripening period, no rind, a straight heel and a chalky texture.
What about the flavour? It is fresh and “milky” with a very pleasant, slightly sour note and a low aromatic intensity which becomes more pronounced in aged cheese wheels.
However, this cheese stands out because of its creaminess and melt-in-mouth texture. It is a milky hug with a fresh but distinctive flavour – in short, absolutely unique.
A cheese from a bygone age
The story of Quartirolo Lombardo cheese is intertwined with the natural, seasonal cycle and the grazing time. Its origins apparently date back to the 10th century AD, when the first transhumance trails were traced.
During the summer, herdsmen move their herd up the mountains and they go back down to the valley just before autumn comes.
Shieling has set the pace of life for animals and breeders alike. With the warm weather they move up the mountains and when the cold season kicks in, they go back down to the valley: that’s the seasonal cycle that one has to follow to obtain good milk.
On the way back to the stables, cows stumble across the last strands of grass which sprouted after the third cutting of hay, which is called Quartirola grass and is packed with all the summer scents.
All of these scents end up in the milk which is, therefore, particularly aromatic and flavourful. And the cheese made from this milk is just as delicious.
That’s the story of Quartirolo Lombardo cheese, the last cheese that is made before cows go back to the stables and go back to hay feeding – the very last trace of summer flavours.
Nowadays, Quartirolo is no longer a seasonal product, but it is still made the same way. Let’s take a look.
How is Quartirolo made: excellent cheese-making techniques
The milk is collected and the cheesemaker adds the natural starter, i.e., the bacterial culture promoting the acidification, which is made from the milk obtained from the same milking.
After around 30 minutes, the rennet is added: the mass is left to rest for 25 minutes more, while it starts to coagulate. When the curd is ready, it is cut for the first time and after a small break, it is cut for the second time. At the end, curds should not be bigger than hazelnuts.
Then the mass is poured in perforated baskets, called fuscella. The curd and whey are poured in specific moulds on draining cheese tables. When the whey has completely dripped from the cheese wheels, the crucial step of steaming begins, which lasts maximum 24 hours and takes place in environments with a controlled temperature and humidity.
And that’s when the tricky part begins, since during those 24 hours, Quartirolo Lombardo cheese must be flipped over at least four or five times. This step makes the inside of the cheese perfectly uniform and it also allows reaching the perfect chalky texture with no eyes, which makes this unique cheese stand out even more.
After being steamed and flipped over, it’s time to salt the cheese which, as per product specifications, can be dry-salted or salted in brine. This not only allows the cheese to get rid of any potential whey residue, but the salt also protects the cheese wheels from unwanted microbial attacks.
It’s time to put the cheeses in aging cellars which have a temperature between 2 and 8 °C and a humidity ranging from 80 to 95%. Fresh Quartirolo cheese only spends a couple of days there, while aged cheeses spend as long as a month in these cellars.
Quartirolo Lombardo cheese is ready, it just needs to get “dressed”. And its dress is the packaging bearing the logo of the Protected Designation of Origin label which stands for quality and connection with the territory.
Certificate of Origin and Consortium
Why is it so important to obtain this label? And what does it guarantee? We always associate the PDO label with the concept of superior quality, but do we really know what product specifications dictate?
Quartirolo Lombardo cheese obtained the PDO label in 1996. This means that its ingredients can only be sourced from the provinces of Brescia, Bergamo, Como, Cremona, Lecco, Lodi, Milan, Pavia and Varese and Quartirolo can only be made there.
Everything is clear so far. What we usually don’t understand is how much the terroir actually matters, not only because it supplies raw materials, but also because it has a specific heritage including skills, tradition and culture.
Milk is sourced locally; production, processing and preparation take place in that area, but there is so much more than that.
The features and the identity of a product are tied to that specific territory and would not exist without it. Let’s keep this in mind next time we eat Quartirolo Lombardo.
Let your creativity run wild. Quartirolo cheese pairs really well with endless dishes! It tastes amazing on its own, just like it is or grilled; it goes really well with any dish, from bruschetta to pasta dishes or risotto, from vegetables to meat dishes.
Its slightly sour note makes every dish fresh and delectable. It is exceptional in salads, both summer salads with tomatoes, cucumbers and olives, and in winter salads with radish, pears and walnuts.
It is also ideal with pasta and rice dishes all year round. Try it with a pasta salad with cherry tomatoes, basil, zucchini and Quartirolo Lombardo cheese to keep cool in the summer heat or with a rich dish of Tagliatelle pasta with artichokes and crunchy Speck to warm up during the cold weather.
And why not adding it to savoury tarts, quiches, pies and omelettes? I mean, with Quartirolo cheese nothing can go wrong, it tastes amazing in every dish!
Jean Brunhes, a French geographer, once said “To eat is to incorporate a territory” and he was right. The bond between a territory and its food is unbreakable and the better the product, the stronger its local identity. If you want to find the perfect example, all you have to do is try Quartirolo Lombardo cheese.
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