fontina cheese
"la fontina" an adventure at high altitude
By Roberto Donna, Galileo Restaurant - Washington, D.C.

I should immediately say that this cheese is not easy to produce. From the human side it requires sacrifice and passion for the making of the cheese, but nature is the most important element: it will provide a great season or a bad one. Thanks to the natural conditions of the Alps, the climate is perfect (dry summers and cold winters) for the growing a precious species of a flora that serves as greens for cow's meals.

The big adventure starts in May, when the pastor and cows start their stroll to the "Alpeggi" (Alpeggi is the area located in high altitude where all the good greens grow.). For 3 months man and cow will be inseparable, best friends in the long walks towards the highest pascoli in Europe. They will arrive at the end of July at 8200 feet of altitude, and the cows will have up to 9000 feet high of field to graze and produce the great milk used to make fontina cheese.

The human work starts at night with the milking of the cows. Then the milk is used in the next hours or it will loose precious quality and the cheese will loose in taste. As soon as the milking is finished, the milk is placed in a large caldaia (calderon) in order to mix it all together and it is kept at 36°C - the same temperature of the cow's body temperature. After that the caglio is added, a nice mix is given to it, and it is allowed to rest for 3 hours. After the rest, the curd will be cut with a large whisk and the coagulation will happen. The next step will be the forming of the cheese and the shaping of it, done in large rings. After the wheels are formed, they will be passed to the salting stage and then in the mountain cave where they will mature sitting on pine wood shelves. The caves have a natural 8-10°C temperature with 90 to 98 percent humidity. The fontina will be ready in 3 months, and during these 3 months the rind of the cheese will be constantly and methodically washed with salted water in order to prevent mold from forming. Today the cheese is produced all year long except during October and November for that is the time for the cows to give birth to the little calves.

Now you can understand why the cheese that comes on the market during the winter is much better than that that is produced during the winter when the cows eat dry green hay.

Here's a great recipe to prepare with fontina, but I recommend you also to eat fontina as is with a good glass of Dolcetto di Ovada.

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