Gorgonzola is a very old cheese, but its origins are shrouded in legend mystery: F. Massara, a historical writer of chronicles, believed that gorgonzola should be considered a refinement of the cheese that Ansperto da Biassono, archbishop of Milan from 868 to 881, mentioned in his will.Others claim that gorgonzola was first made in the town of the same name in 879 A.D.
Others still say that its creation took place in Pasturo, in Valsassina, a centuries-old centre for dairy production that gained importance because of the presence of excellent natural caves with a constant average temperature of between 6 and 12 °C, which provided the perfect conditions for it.Another theory sees the creation of gorgonzola in a more folkloristic light: one autumn between the eighth and ninth centuries, herdsmen were returning from their Alpine huts and stopped in Gorgonzola.
One of them had forgotten the tools for working the milk to make crescenza or quartirolo cheeses, so he left the curd in a container and combined it with that from the morning, and the combination of the two cheeses created Gorgonzola.
Gorgonzola was the only Italian cheese on the menu at the restaurant on the Titanic.
There is also another story that tells of an innkeeper from Gorgonzola who, have been asked for cheese by some drunken patrons, decided to fob them off with a few slice of stracchino that had gone bad. However, that cheese suited the wine and the heavy drinkers much better than the pale stracchino and the customers wolfed it down.
Gorgonzola’s first true name was “stracchino from Gorgonzola”, better defined by its synonym “green stracchino”. There is no doubt that it was made during the autumn milking season when the transhumant herders returned from their mountain huts, meaning it had a well-defined parallel with other cheeses processed by the various penicillin fungi throughout the Alpine range, such as Roquefort and castelmagno.
Gorgonzola must have been a big commercial success, as around the middle of the nineteenth century it began to be mentioned alongside the great cheeses industrially produced at that time, and in 1860 Mattia Locatelli began construction on what can be considered the first great industrial and functional gorgonzola maturation plant in Ballabio Inferiore in the province of Como.
The Locatelli family can be credited with both establishing itself on the market of the recently unified Italy and producing the first successful exports thanks to the company’s efficient business network, which had offices in London, Buenos Aires and New York as early as the end of the last century.
In those times, the centres of gorgonzola production, where this production still survives in part, included Pavia, Novara, Valtellina, Bergamo, Veneto and Emilia. It should not be forgotten that gorgonzola was even produced in Aquila and Caserta.
From the beginning of the twentieth century onward, while gorgonzola has relished success abroad, it has been constantly improved through the marking out of its current typical area: Novara and its province have become the capital for this cheese and a Consortium for its protection was finally established in 1970.
Gorgonzola cheese has been recognised by the European Community and was registered on the list of DOP (Protected Designation of Origin) products on 12 June 1996.
The quality and authenticity of this cheese is ensured in several ways: a product specification outlines the production standards and the DOP zone for collecting milk and for maturing. Furthermore, it has established that each wheel of gorgonzola must be branded at its source and indicate the manufacturer.
Finally, in order for it to be sold as such, Gorgonzola must have the sign of the Consortium on its two flat sides and be wrapped in aluminium foil bearing a small “cg” stamped in relief on the whole foil.
The aluminium foil of the consortium
The Consortium for the Protection of Gorgonzola Cheese was established in 1970, which oversees compliance with and application of the standards in force in Italy and abroad, where the “Gorgonzola” designation of origin is protected.
Gorgonzola DOP is currently produced by around forty cheese factories, which range from small family business to large national industrial plants. This cheese is made from pasteurised whole milk, which is poured into a boiler at a temperature of around 30°, to which milk enzymes, rennet and penicillin spores are added.
Once coagulation has taken place, the curd is broken and deposited onto spersori (special draining tables) to allow the whey to pour out.
After a few minutes, it is arranged in the moulds for stratification and left to rest to allow the whey to be released.
After this pause, the wheels of cheese are turned and it is at this point that the mark of origin is added, with a mark placed under each wheel in the form a number identifying each dairy and manufacturer.
After another rest, the wheels are turned again and then marked on the other side.
At this point they are sent to “purgatory” (cells kept at 20/22°C with high humidity), where they are expertly salted on the top, bottom and side, and after 3 or 4 days they start to mature in refrigerated cells with a temperature of 2/7°C and relative humidity of 85/99%.
When the cheese is between three and four weeks old, it is perforated with large metal needles that penetrate it, first on one side, then on the lateral surface, then on the other, thereby allowing the air to enter and develop the cultures already inserted into the curd. The air that enters in this way brings about the optimal and natural conditions for the development of the penicillium glaucum that produces the blue/green veining that make Gorgonzola cheese unmistakable.
Once maturation is complete, the wheels are removed from the bands, cut in half or further divided, and each part receives its embossed aluminium cover. The function of the cover is to reduce the loss caused by evaporation, to protect the crust against breakage or cracking and to preserve the precious organoleptic characteristics of the Gorgonzola DOP cheese during transport over time.
The whole wheel
Tasting the cheese
Gorgonzola Piccante (spicy gorgonzola) mainly differs from the ‘dolce’ or sweet type in terms of its blue/green veining, which is more pronounced, its more consistent and crumbly curd and its stronger and sharper taste. It requires a longer maturation period and different types of penicillin cultures are introduced during the processing of the milk.
This type of gorgonzola is also known as “grandfather’s gorgonzola” or “ancient gorgonzola”, because it was mainly consumed in times gone by. Now only a limited quantity of it is produced, as it has its own personal market of connoisseurs and ultra-traditionalists.
"The Local Area"
According to the provisions of the product specification, only two regions of Italy, Piedmont and Lombardy, are permitted to produce Gorgonzola DOP, and only these provinces within them: Novara, Vercelli, Cuneo, Biella, Verbano Cusio Ossola and the area of Casale Monferrato for Piedmont.
Bergamo, Brescia, Como, Cremona, Lecco, Lodi, Milan, Monza, Pavia and Varese for Lombardy. Only milk from livestock reared in these provinces can be used to produce and therefore attribute the DOP protected designation of origin to Gorgonzola Cheese, thereby guaranteeing an important product from the level of the raw ingredients.
To summarise, right from the healthy production of the animal feed and the high hygienic standard of the barns in the consortium areas, the milk destined to be turned into “Gorgonzola DOP” is the basic premise for a product of the highest standard.
In his famous memoirs, the great Churchill recalled that during the last world war he ordered that Gorgonzola not be bombed because of its status as the producer of the famous cheese, which was a favourite of his. For that reason, he marked out the precious town with an obvious red circle on the maps.
Curator—Consorzio per la Tutela del Formaggio Gorgonzola