Monday, January 23

Unearthing A Culinary Rarity: Cheese from a Pit with Vittorio Beltrami, Le Marche

 The Italian Einstein of cheese, Vittorio Beltrami, recognized as one of the best, most well-respected & charismatic cheese makers from the Marche region graciously invited us to a special event, centuries old, at the Beltrami oil mill in Cartoceto - the unearthing of the famous formaggio di fossa (pit-aged cheese).

Formaggio di Fossa is considered one of the most delicious culinary rarities from Romagna and Marche. According to legend, it seems that the origin of the cheese dates back to the 1400’s when farmers would defend themselves & their supplies by hiding in pits. Then months later after the war ended & the cheese was unearthed they were met with a flavorful surprise!  

the pit and the cheese, Le Marche Italy
Centuries later the method of cheese curing is still practiced. In late August the cheese is prepared and placed in cloth bags. The pits are dug to a depth of several meters and then filled with wheels of cheese and beds of straw. Then the pits are sealed with a wooden lid and then plaster atop. The cheese remains underground for 90 days during which it acquires the characteristic aroma of moss, sulfur and truffle making it incredibly pungent & unique. The pits are open for the feast of St. Catherine and the cheese is removed.

Freshly removed cheese from the pit, formaggio di fossa in Le Marche, Italy
We descend into the cavern that houses the pits below the floor, the air fills with musty mold and cold stone. We peer deep into the the hole amazed that such a simple thing - literally a pit, can create the perfect climate to create a delicious & unique tasting & smelling cheese.  Because of this rich flavor it is best to eat this cheese with fruit & honey, broken into wedges with bread or grated atop pasta and pairs perfect with crisp Pecorino or a rich round red like a Lacrima Superiore.

As Vittorio address the room, he proudly acknowledges the work of his sheep without them there would be no cheese, he looks up with a smile & trademark twinkle in his eyes!

Lunch lasted more than 3 hours of cheeses with apples, lentil soup, panzanella, pasta with formaggio di fossa and you guessed it, cheese for dessert. We helped ourselves to bottles of local wine - reds, whites & rose, just grab a bottle & bring it to your table. At one point Vittorio enters the room and introduces an artisan pasta maker from the region thanking him for contributing to lunch, proclaiming how pasta was first created in Le Marche! I don’t know if its true, but he got the reaction he was looking for - knowing nods of approval, as if to say "Of course pasta was made here!"

Like Jason & I, Vittorio is not only proud of what he produces, but of all the other fabulous artisans surrounding him - if there was a theme to this lunch it was all things local: local apples, local lentils, local wine, local bread, local produce, local people. And this is wonderfully typical in Le Marche.

The atmosphere was festive & flavorful - filled with pride for all the delicious treasures this region has to offer!

Vittorio Beltrami and his wife serving lunch
  No matter what time of year, it is worth a visit to Gastronomia Beltrami to meet the Beltrami family, taste their delicious cheeses and discover a true Italian artisan and culinary legend at work. Cheese Master Vittorio Beltrami also produces extra virgin olive oil with selected olives grown and harvested in Cartoceto as well as jams and jellies prepared to suit each individual cheeses unique flavor.

If you are visiting Italy in the fall, then don't miss Cartoceto (Le Marche) on the last Sunday of November to take part in Vittorio Beltrami’s pit-opening; his pits are located on the site of the Frantoio della Rocca. It will be an unforgettable experience!
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