Piave is the most famous of the cheeses from the Belluno area. Created by the local master cheesemakers, it is still today produced in the traditional manner.
Its sweet, penetrating flavour intensifies as it matures. It is available in Fresco, Mezzano, Vecchio, Vecchio Selezione Oro and Vecchio Riserva forms.
The rind is soft and light in colour in the Fresco form, becomes thicker and harder as the cheese ages and is hard with a colour tending to ochre in the Vecchio Selezione Oro and Vecchio Riserva forms.
The cheese is compact and without eyes, is very light in colour in the Fresco form and acquires an increasingly intense pale yellow colour as it ages and becomes more friable, a characteristic typical of grating cheeses.
- Average weight of a wheel: 6-7 Kg
- Diameter: 31-33 cm
- Height: 7-9 cm
- Fat content: min. 42%
- Fresco: from 20 to 60 days
- Mezzano: from 61 to 180 days
- Vecchio: over 180 days
- Vecchio Selezione Oro: over 12 months
- Vecchio Riserva : over 18 months
Taking its name from the Piave river, Piave cheese was first made at the foot of the Dolomitic peaks, amidst ancient forests and green valleys with rich pastures, a hard, rocky environment for centuries devoted to the raising of dairy cattle.
With the decline of the Serenissima Repubblica di Venezia, which once controlled much of the territory, the exploitation of the forests was less intensive and the fragile Belluno economy was severely tested. The most natural and most valid alternative production that saved the population in the most critical periods proved to be the raising of dairy cattle, in particular cows of the Bruna breed, by small mountain landowners and the sharecroppers in the lower valleys.
In 1872, in a valley in the province of Belluno, the parish priest Antonio dalla Lucia promoted the founding for the first cooperative dairy in the Kingdom of Italy. Called a Kasèl in the local dialect (a cheesehouse), the dairy offered farmers in the area to take turns in processing their milk to produce the precious cheeses. A new form of ethical management of the limited resources deriving from the raising of dairy cattle that helped lay the foundations for the dairy industry of the Belluno district.
It was followed by others, ever larger and more organized; designed to transform the abundant milk produced in the area into butter and fresh and mature cheeses.
Alongside these cooperative dairies, the historic dairy farms known as malghe or maiolere continued to operate and were the true sources of the rich Belluno dairy traditions. It is thanks to these malghe that the art of producing the typical local cheese has been handed down over the centuries. However, it was not until 1960 that the definitive name “Piave” was adopted; in 2010, the cheese was awarded PDO status.
Piave cheese is produced exclusively in the province of Belluno, situated in the northernmost part of the Veneto region. It is in this area, dominated by the evocative Dolomite mountains, that the legendary Piave river flows: from its source on Monte Peralba in the northernmost part of the province, via the Cadore and Feltrino areas to the plain at the foot of the Venetian Prealps.
The production of Piave cheese begins with the filtering and pasteurization of the raw milk. This is followed by the pouring of the milk and lactic enzymes into vats and the curdling phase via the addition of rennet obtained from the stomachs of calves which, acting on the casein – the principal protein in milk – causes coagulation.
The curdling phase is followed by the division of the curd itself into circular recipients where is left to allow the excess whey to drain.
A transporter chain then engages with the container and conducts it to the pressing area where, via the use of hydraulic jacks the cheese is pressed for around 40 minutes, losing further liquids and taking on the correct density.
At the end of the pressing phase, the cheese is removed from the mould and placed in a branding mould around the internal edge of which is the name of the cheese in relief.
During this branding phase, the outside edge of the cheese is marked with the characteristic product logo.
At this point, the cheese, enclosed in the fascera or branding mould and placed on supports, is stored in the "resting towers" for 12 hours for an initial, partial ageing and compacting phase.
On leaving the “resting towers”, the cheese has a more intense yellow colour and a thin, permeable rind that makes it compact and permits it to be immersed in brine (a solution of salt and water) for the last phase of the cycle, salting, which lasts for a minimum of 48 hours.
Once the production cycle has been concluded, the cheese is ready to be sent to the ageing store, placed on wooden shelves and periodically brushed, turned and maintained in the optimum conditions of temperature and humidity for the time required for ageing.
Piave is a cheese offered in five stages of ageing:
- Piave Fresco P.D.O. (20 to 60 days): A cooked curd cheese with a compact structure and a delicate, pleasant flavour. In Piave Fresco form the characteristics of this cheese have yet to emerge fully and it improves over time as its flavour becomes increasingly rich and complex. Its perfume recalls yoghurt and milk while the flavour is prevalently sweet.
- Piave Mezzano P.D.O. (61/180 days): A cooked curd hard cheese without eyes; the flavour is sharp and pleasant, not salty; the perfume is strongly reminiscent of milk but also yoghurt; on the palate it proves to be a very soluble cheese.
- Piave Vecchio P.D.O. (over 180 days): A compact cooked curd hard cheese with a friable and soluble structure; the sharp and markedly fruity flavour is never piquant and renders the cheese unique and unmistakeable. In advanced stages of maturation, after at least six months, Piave cheese acquires specific aromas and flavours that differentiate it from all other cheeses.
- Piave Vecchio Selezione Oro P.D.O. (Over 12 months): Piave cheese expresses its full maturity after ageing for at least a year, with the structure becoming friable and the flavour full and absolutely unique. Its peculiarity is that of always remaining sweet and never piquant and having a fruity, very intense flavour, characteristic of the most advanced stages of ageing, with a string persistence on the palate.
- Piave Vecchio Riserva P.D.O. (over 18 months): Thanks to a production process handed down from generation to generation of cheesemakers and an ageing period of over 18 months, Piave Riserva boasts a particular note that makes it absolutely unmistakeable. Only a restricted number of cheeses are aged for this length of time.
Fresco or Stagionato, Piave represents a genuine food with a high energy value, an easily digestible vehicle for important nutritional elements indispensable at all ages.
It is a product that is:
- genuine, thanks to the natural ingredients composed essentially of fresh milk, lactic enzymes, rennet and salt;
- complete in nutritional terms because it contains essential amino acids, calcium and phosphorus;
- easily digestible, because during the course of ageing biochemical modifications make the fats and proteins easily assimilable;
- at low risk for allergies as lactose is present in very low concentrations as it is degraded by the fermentation processes.
In the kitchen
Piave is suitable for sophisticated Italian dishes. In Fresco form it is an excellent table cheese, breaded or melted to enhance vegetables. In Mezzano form it is perfect on its own or cut into strips for tasty salads or first courses. Vecchio Selezione Oro is excellent grated on first courses or in flakes as part of an aperitif. Delicious accompanied by fruit compotes.
A refrigerator is almost indispensible nowadays, but should you have access to a cool and sufficiently ventilated cellar, this would be the perfect place to keep a semi-hard or hard cheese such as Piave in its Mezzano, Vecchio, Vecchio Selezione Oro and Riserva forms, wrapped in a cotton or linen cloth. Optimum conditions require a temperature of 10°C and humidity at 70%. In the case of a younger cheese such as Piave Fresco, conservation in a refrigerator is preferable, where possible keeping the product in its original packaging.