It seems there is money to be made in counterfeiting any product – even cheese is fair game – I wonder if you’ve ever tried Gorgonzola that’s actually not the real deal and how would you know? No. Me either. Formaggio fraudsters often make cheese, selling it under names ending in “zola” which fool customers into thinking they’re buying the genuine article only to be disappointed when they unwrap it at home. So I went on a fact-finding mission to North-West Italy to discover how a genuine wheel of this delicious blue cheese is produced.
Only real gorgonzola has a on the aluminium foil that protects it and can only be applied by producers authorised by a Consortium. The label of origin is branded on the cheese and guarantees it’s not only of superb quality but that it’s authentic. Check with your delicatessen or pre-wrapped supermarket wedge.
It’s in Novara where you’ll find the Gorgonzola Consortium – a non-profit making organisation established to protect the brand and the producers who make it.
To get its PDO certification the cheese has to be prepared, processed and produced within a specific region and have characteristics totally unique to that area. Gorgonzola can only be produced in Novara, Vercelli, Cuneo, Biella, Verbano Cusio Ossola, and the area of Casale Monferrato within the Piedmont region, and Bergamo, Brescia, Como, Cremona, Lecco, Lodi, Milano, Monza, Pavia, and Varese within the Lombardy region.
The Invernizzi family has produced high quality gorgonzola for three generations and it’s here in their state-of-the-art factory that they produce 400 wheels of cheese each day.
The milk is brought to the factory from the cows of Consortium members. Before its processed, its pasteurised and then warmed to about 30°. Milk enzymes are put into the milk, along with the rennet and the spores of selected cultures that give gorgonzola its distinctive blue veins and creamy texture and flavour.
The master cheesemaker decides when the curd, produced by the milk coagulation, is ready to be worked by the massive stainless steel mandolin. It’s the scary looking mesh paddle to the left of the vat.
The curd is broken up and tipped onto a specially perforated table where the whey drains.
From there, the curd is put into moulds which have holes around the sides, each mould holds 15kg of fresh cheese. The holes allow extra whey to run off.
The curd stays in the moulds (known as fascere or fassiroli) until the next morning, up until then they’re turned to help the whey to drain off. It’s then that the cheese-maker adds their specific stamp which identifies where the cheese has been made.
The next day the wheels are salted, first around the wheel, then the top and bottom.
Repeated again the next day, the cheese is kept in an area where the temperature is monitored and kept to about 20°C and between 90 and 95 percent humidity. It’s known as the ‘stewing phase’ where the cheese continues to drain whey.
It’s another 24 hours in the stewing chamber for the cheese and then it’s transferred to a cold room where the temperature drops to 4°C. It begins the maturing phase and it’s very important that the temperature is constantly monitored.
Seven days later and the cheese moves to the perforating and salting process. Each cheese wheel is pierced 100 times to a depth almost equal to its height.
Next the cheeses are washed with a salt and water solution, a process which is repeated several times. After a week, the same operation, on the opposite surface. The perforations allow air to react with the mould injected at the start of the milk process.
Maturing continues post-salting and the cheese is wheeled to various cold rooms, at temperatures between 3°C and 5°C and a humidity of 90-100%. Depending on the type of Gorgonzola, the wheels can spend something between 60 and 90 days in this environment.
The Dolce or mild gorgonzola has a delicate taste, it’s more creamy and less developed veins of mould run through it. It’s left to mature for about two months. Authentic Dolce is wrapped in dark blue foil with the trademark
Piccante or mature Gorgonzola has a firmer texture and a stronger taste. There are lots of veins of mould and this is matured for three months. The Piccante is wrapped in green foil.
The locals are proud of their Gorgonzola, the cheese-seller in Casa del Parmagiano didn’t actually wanted me to buy any, he just wanted to feed me.
So, to recap, any ‘gorgonzola’ that is made outside of Piedmont and Lombardy isn’t true gorgonzola. If your cheese packet marked ‘gorgonzola’ does not have the red and gold PDO stamp OR the obvious g then it’s a fake.
Chances are it won’t have been made to any of the exacting standards set out by the Consortium and whilst it’s stolen the name, hopefully now you’ve read this, you’ll put it back where it came from.