If the Barbera is the queen of wines, it is always the Castelmagno that sits in the throne of cheeses. What crowns it is its flavour, given by mountain milk and scented pastures; the special microclimate of the valley, perfect for aging. To think that its origins are less than noble. Au contraire: its history is deeply rooted in the extreme poverty of the Alta Valle Grana (high valley of the Grana river), where neither vines nor wheat (“grano” means wheat in Italian) grows, and where people have lived off chestnut flour for millennia. Hostile lands for grazing, featuring stone houses and cliffs. Its flaky and unique texture, made of pressed cheese, is due to the fact that – historically – producers had a small number of cows and a small amount of milk to work with, thus to make a full wheel to sell at the marketplace, they had to put together – or “press” – cheeses from more than one family or made on different days. Nothing witnesses the millennial fight for survival endured by the tenacious inhabitants of these mountains more than the Castelmagno.

DESCRIPTION

It is a semi-hard pressed cheese, made with cow milk and possible additions of sheep milk and/or goat milk, with the percentage of the latter varying from a minimum of 5% to a maximum of 20%. Its area of production strictly includes three towns in the Alta Valle Grana (province of Cuneo): Castelmagno, Pradleves, and Monterosso Grana. It is cylinder-shaped with flat faces, has a diameter ranging from 15 to 25 cm (5.9-9.8 in)  and the height from 12 to 20 cm (4.7-7.8 in). The weight is from 2 to 7 kg (4.4 - 15.4 lbs). 

SENSORY CHARACTERISTICS 

At the eye: The rind is thin and smooth, with a yellow-reddish colour in the freshest versions, and with a more rough structure of an ochre-brown colour in the more aged versions. The paste is crumbly and has no eyes; it is ivory white, with a tendency to turn to straw yellow, and ochre in the underrind. It may have blue-green veins in the more aged versions. The presence of veins is due to the growth of special mould – belonging to the pennicillium genus, typical of the so-called blue cheeses. The process of erborinatura (from the Milanese word “erborin”, meaning parsley, referring to the colour and shape of the veins) naturally occurs in the Castelmagno without the need to add supplementary moulds.

At the nose: It captures you with its dense fragrance and its milky and vegetable aromatic notes, which bring to mind the mountain pastures, the medicinal alpine herbs, and the fields full of flowers where the animals graze. Intense scents of fermented milk and fodder emerge and evolve into animal odours in the more aged versions.

At the palate: It is here that the Castelmagno reveals its uniqueness. It is a cheese that unmistakably references the landscapes where it is produced, with a strong but never flattering character. Its flavour stays in the mind of those who have tasted it at least once. Very scented, intense, with a pleasant acidity that is able to leave the mouth completely clean. Moderately salty when fresh; more bitter and spicy the more it is aged.

AREAS OF PRODUCTION

It is made at over 600 metres (1968 feet) above sea level, and thus bears the “Mountain Product” label and description. Instead, if it is processed at over 1000 metres (3280 feet) a.s.l., and the milk derives exclusively from grazing animals with a diet including 90% local flora in the period between May and late October, then it may bear the “Alpine Product” label.

PRODUCTION GUIDELINES 

Its production is quite limited in order to guarantee a quality level that earned it the European PDO recognition in 1996. Its Safeguard Consortium assigned it a precise symbol: a stylized “C” with an outline of the Alpine peaks. Given its rarity, it is one of the world’s most imitated cheeses. This is why it requires strict auditing to protect consumers and producers.

The milk used is the result of combining two milkings per day (up to a maximum of four), with the first milking stored at a low temperature and eventually skimmed naturally.

The coagulation process is performed on unpasteurized milk warmed in steel boilers up to 30-38 °C (86-100°F) using liquid rennet. The curd is then broken and left to rest in whey, and finally it is extracted, wrapped in blankets, and left to drip for about 24 hours.

At the end of this time, the curd is cut in slices and immersed in steel or plastic basins containing whey left from the day of processing. The curd is left in the whey for 2-3 days, and is subsequently extracted and finely ground. The ground curd is then salted with coarse salt, placed in plastic or steel moulds, and pressed for 24-48 hours to facilitate draining of the whey. The PDO mark is engraved on the wheel.

Aging – carried out in cool and humid natural spaces or cold stores – shall last at least 2 months.

HISTORY AND LEGENDS

The Castelmagno has extremely ancient origins: it is perhaps slightly younger, if not contemporary, to the Gorgonzola, which was already known in 1100. Due to its noble taste, the Castelmagno has always enjoyed immeasurable celebrity. In 1277, the Marquis of Saluzzo sued the city of Castelmagno, accusing it of having let its cows graze on his land. The trial was won by the Marquis who, in return, did not ask for money, but for an annual supply of the precious cheese.

In the 1800s, the Castelmagno lived a golden age, making an appearance in the most exclusive restaurants in London and Paris. Later, the World Wars turned the Alps into a parade of bayonets and cannons, thus by the 1960s the cheese was almost forgotten, and the highlanders left the Alps to look for work in factories. Its revival occurred in the 1980s. In 1982 it earned the national controlled designation of origin (DOC), and in 1996 it earned the European protected designation of origin (PDO).

 

ORIGIN OF THE NAME

The Castelmagno has extremely ancient origins: it is perhaps slightly younger, if not contemporary, to the Gorgonzola, which was already known in 1100. Due to its noble taste, the Castelmagno has always enjoyed immeasurable celebrity. In 1277, the Marquis of Saluzzo sued the city of Castelmagno, accusing it of having let its cows graze on his land. The trial was won by the Marquis who, in return, did not ask for money, but for an annual supply of the precious cheese.

In the 1800s, the Castelmagno lived a golden age, making an appearance in the most exclusive restaurants in London and Paris. Later, the World Wars turned the Alps into a parade of bayonets and cannons, thus by the 1960s the cheese was almost forgotten, and the highlanders left the Alps to look for work in factories. Its revival occurred in the 1980s. In 1982 it earned the national controlled designation of origin (DOC), and in 1996 it earned the European protected designation of origin (PDO).

HOW TO ENJOY IT, WHAT WINES TO PAIR WITH IT

It is perfect with a trickle of honey or extra virgin olive oil, or a few leaves of dill. Versatile and complete, PDO Castelmagno also lends itself to a wide range of pairings at the dinner table. It combines well with rice, potatoes, gnocchi, or pasta. As a fondue, with its strong taste, it bonds well with wheat or buckwheat crêpes. There is one bad marriage: the white Alba truffle, in that the already intense flavour of the tuber is not a good match with the equally strong Castelmagno. But everybody knows the “greats” want the stage all to themselves.

The Castelmagno is made in Piedmont, and the best possible pairing is with local red wines, as the sensory traits of the cheese bond perfectly with the tannins and acidic elements of the Piedmontese reds. For young Castelmagno – aged 2 or 3 months – paired wines should be fresh and flowery: excellent matches include the Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato, the Barbera d’Asti, the Nebbiolo d’Alba, or the Barolo.

When enjoying medium-aged Castelmagno – aged 4-6 months or up to 12 months – wines paired should be more full-bodied, also medium-aged, and with an intense fragrance, for example the Barbera d’Asti Superiore or the Nizza. Finally, the best matches for 36-month Castelmagno are great wines with a Nebbiolo grape base: the great Nebbiolos of North Piedmont (Gattinara, Lessona, Boca, Carema), and the ones from the Langhe and Roero areas (Nebbiolo d’Alba, Barolo, Barbaresco, and Roero). This version of the cheese also combines well with Moscato straw wines such as Loazzolo and Strevi.

 

THE EUROPEAN UNION SUPPORTS CAMPAIGNS THAT PROMOTE HIGH QUALITY AGRICULTURAL PRODUCTS.