Since ancient times, the mountains of Belluno have provided an ideal natural setting for breeding dairy cattle and for dairy production. The first cooperative dairy in the Kingdom of Italy was established in Canale d’Agordo in 1872.The idea of grouping small local farmers to process their milk in a single cheese dairy, thereby reducing production costs, was imposed in every small town in the mountains of Belluno during those difficult years, significantly contributing to the development of the local dairy traditions.
The dairies were based essentially on the production of fresh cheeses with an intense milky flavour and cooked curd cheeses for short and medium maturation. The first “regulated” productions under the name Piave date back to the early 1960s, a time when the cheese was produced in limited quantities and only known in its area of origin.
The rules for making Piave DOP cheese, handed down over time by generations of cheesemakers, have survived unchanged up to the present and were organised into strict regulations after the recognition of the protected designation of origin in 2010. Due to increasing demand from consumers, the quantity produced has grown to the current 350,000 cheeses per year, and the fame of Piave DOP has extended beyond the borders of Veneto to reach vast areas of northern and central Italy, and has even gained wide acceptance abroad.
Piave DOP is a cylindrical-shaped, cooked paste, mature hard cheese made from cow’s milk collected in the mountainous area of the province of Belluno and processed in cheesemaking plants located in the same area.Piave DOP is available in five versions: Fresh (20-60 days), Medium (61-180 days), Old (>180 days), Old Gold Selection (>12 months) and Old Reserve (over 18 months).
In order to protect consumers, the product name “Piave” is branded vertically around the entire rim. The cheese is also customised with a label indicating its ageing period, for simple identification at the time of purchase.
The flavour of Piave DOP, particularly the “Fresh” variety, is initially sweet and milky. As ageing progresses, a savoury flavour prevails, becoming progressively more intense and full-bodied, but never spicy. The rind is soft and light on the “Fresh” cheese, increasing in thickness and consistency with age, and becoming hard and progressively darker in colour, tending towards ochre, in “Old” and “Old Gold Selection” varieties.
The paste is characterised by an absence of holes. It is white and uniform in the “Fresh” cheese, while with longer ageing it becomes a pale yellow colour with a drier, grainier and more crumbly texture. The paste of the Piave DOP “Old” and “Old Gold Selection” varieties has a characteristic slight flakiness.
The application of modern technology in the production of Piave DOP cheese has allowed many difficulties to be overcome, ensuring the hygiene standards required by law and demanded by the market, while allowing the use of traditional techniques and the application of the recipe developed through the experience of the cheesemakers.
The production cycle begins with cleaning and pasteurisation of the raw milk. The coagulation phase comes next, with the pouring of the milk into the boiler.Milk and whey starter cultures (produced on site) are then added and the milk is heated to a temperature of 34-36°C.
Rennet is added to make the cheese curdle and, after being left to rest for 10-20 minutes, the curd is cut and broken up into lumps the size rice grains.Cooking then follows, at a temperature of 44-47°C, with alternate periods of rest and stirring, for a total time of about 2 hours.The curd is then portioned out into circular containers in which it is collected and allowed to drain to eliminate the excess whey content.
At this point, the cheese is pressed for 40 minutes. The form is then removed from the moulding container and placed inside a marking ring called a “fascera”, with the name of the cheese engraved on its inner face. This is the marking stage, in which the rim is stamped with the product identification mark.
Then the cheese, enclosed in the hoop and placed on special stands, is left to rest for 12 hours. After this short period it is immersed in a salt and water solution for a minimum of 48 hours.
Once the production cycle is completed, the cheese is ready to be sent to the ageing room, where it is stored on wooden shelves and regularly brushed, turned and kept at ideal conditions of temperature (8°-14°C) and humidity (70-90%) for the necessary for maturation period.
The Local Area
The entire Piave DOP cheese production process takes place within the province of Belluno, the northernmost part of Veneto, between Trentino Alto Adige in the north-west and Friuli to the east. Some of the most famous and striking peaks of the Dolomites dominate this area, including Monte Pelmo, Monte Civetta, the Cristallo group, Monte Antelao, the Tofane group and Marmolada.
Piave cheese is named after the river Piave, the source of which is 1,840 metres above sea level, on the slopes of Monte Peralba in upper Val Sesis, near Sappada. The Piave follows a winding route down to the valley floor, first through Comelico, then Cadore and the Belluno basin, between Belluno and Feltre, where the river flows more slowly, until it reaches the plain at the foot of the Venetian Prealps.
The milk used to make Piave is distinguished by its high quality characteristics, both due to the use of traditional native breeds (the Italian Brown, Italian Simmental and Italian Friesian), and to the grazing, in an mountainous area rich in uncontaminated pastures.
The fodder, consisting of typical Alpine and pre-Alpine grass mixtures, is rich in flowers, which provide the local milk with peculiar aromatic qualities that pass directly to the Piave PDO Cheese, giving it unique flavours and aromas quite different from those of other dairy products in the surrounding areas.
Human skills also contribute to giving the product its specific organoleptic properties, with the traditional use of special locally made milk and whey starter cultures in the cheesemaking process.
Over the years, Piave DOP Cheese has received of a long list of awards and recognitions, among which the following should be mentioned: first prize at the World Cheese Awards in Birmingham (UK) in 2011, first prize at the World Cheese Awards in Dublin in 2008, and gold medals at three Cheese Olympics, in 2005, 2007 and 2009.
Curator — Consorzio per la Tutela del Formaggio Piave