Montasio

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Identikit

Montasio is a table cheese typical of the Friuli Venezia Giulia region and the north-east of the Veneto region.

This semi-hard cheese is characterised by a compact texture with a white or pale yellow colour and regular eyes. The initially smooth, flexible and compact light brown rind progressively dries as ageing proceeds, with the cheese becoming granular and friable as it ripens.

labelProtected Designation of Origin (from 1996)

Characteristics

    • Average weight of a wheel: 6-8 Kg
    • Diameter: 30-35 cm
    • Height: 8 cm
    • Fat content: min. 40%

Ageing

    • Fresco: over 2 months
    • Mezzano: over 4 months
    • Stagionato: over 10 months
    • Stravecchio: over 18 months

History

Montasio belongs to the extended family of Alpine cheeses. First made early in the second millennium, these cheeses represented a way of storing a perishable product such as milk for periods in which production was low.

Montasio was first made around the year 1200 in the Alpi Giulie and Carniche valleys thanks to the determination and intelligence of the Benedictine monks.  At Moggio Udinese (on the northern side of Montasio plateau) is found the convent, today used by the Clarissa nuns, in which the various production techniques of the cheesemakers in the area were brought together and refined.

This production technology soon spread to the valleys of the Carnia area and the Friuliano-Veneta plain.

The first documents mentioning “Montasio cheese” are price lists from the city of San Daniele dating from 1775, which record the prices for Montasio as being much higher than the average for the other cheeses. 

From that period onwards Montasio has always been mentioned in all the mercantile documents of North-East Italy.

Territory

The area of production of Montasio cheese is defined as follows:

  • the Friuli Venezia Giulia region: the entire provinces of Udine, Pordenone, Gorizia and Trieste
  • the Veneto region: the entire provinces of Treviso and Belluno and parts of the provinces of Venice and Padua.

Production

The production technique has evolved while retaining the original concepts. The milk is, in fact, transformed into cheese using gentle techniques that do not cause particular damage to the original microbial and bacterial flora. Fresh raw milk that has not been subjected to heat treatment is used. In order to guide fermentation, a low-acid starter culture is used which is obtained by allowing the milk to ferment after low-temperature pasturization. All this favours the multiplication of the milk’s natural enzymes – those of the area of production and the breeds of cattle and the hay used.

The classic production process provides for differentiated harvesting of the milk, with the evening milking being skimmed. The milk is than poured into vats, usual made of copper, to which the starter culture is added in a ratio of 0.5/1 Kg per hectolitre. It is then heated to a temperature of 32/34°C when rennet obtained from the dried stomachs of colostrum deprived calves.

After around 20/25 minutes of coagulation the gelatinous mass is cut using an agitator known as a lira (after the musical instrument the lyre, beloved of Nero). The granules obtained have the dimensions of a grain of rice. The curd is then heated to a temperature of 44/46°C.

While the curd is agitated the scalding process continues away from the heat source, allowing the curd to harden and expel the whey. After around 20/30 minutes the Montasio is extracted using cloths. The cheeses are placed in the characteristic branding moulds that impress the mark of origin, the date of production and the cheesehouse; they are then pressed to eliminate the whey and give the cheese its characteristic shape.

After around 24 hours, the cheese is immersed in brine (a saturated solution of salt and water) for a period of around 48 hours. After this phase, the cheese undergoes further dry salting and is then placed in the stores to age.

The wheels of Montasio cheese are identified through the mark of origin on the sides, the oblique repetition of the name “Montasio”.  The cheese is also branded with a second mark of quality by the consortium board to identify a product aged for over 100 days that is free of any ripening defect.

Ageing

Montasio is characterised by four ageing stages:

  • Fresco – aged for over 60 days
  • Mezzano – aged for over four months
  • Stagionato – aged for over 10 months
  • Stravecchio – aged for over 18 months

The sensorial characteristics of Montasio cheese differ according to the ageing. The Fresco version has a soft, delicate flavour that recalls the milk from which it is made; with Mezzano the flavours are more defined with a particular fullness; the Stagionato takes on particularly aromatic flavours with a mild piquancy that makes it ideal for consumers who enjoy strong, decisive flavours.

Montasio cheese is characterised by small, regular and polished eyes. In the younger Montasio cheeses the light brown rind is smooth, elastic and compact, which the compact paste is white or pale yellow.

As the period of ageing increases, the rind becomes drier and the cheese more granular and friable.

Nutrition

Montasio is a cheese with a high nutritional value and a balanced composition: 32-36% water, 32-34% fat, 24-26% protein. It is recommended for people all ages and thanks to its digestibility is particularly recommended for children and the elderly.

In the kitchen

Fresco and Mezzano cheese are ideal accompanied with bread, salad, trifolate vegetables, timbales and vegetable patties. It is also a table cheese to be eaten on its own, with bread or with raw or cooked vegetables. It is well suited to accompanying fine meats.

The Stagionato version is an excellent cheese for grating, an ideal condiment for pasta and soups. It is also excellent paired with fruit, jams and honey or in unusual desserts.

Conservation

Montasio should be kept at a temperature of between 8 and 10°C.