It came to mind as I was on one of our many summer hikes and passed a herd of cows that I have never written anything about the magnificent cheeses we have in Piemonte. One of the few you may be familiar with is Gorgonzola. A lovely blue cheese that can be so creamy it almost melts on your plate, or the firmer, aged version (naturale) that is delicious crumbled over a salad. Most other Piemontese cheeses are relatively unknown in other regions of Italy let alone the rest of the world. So, let me introduce you Raschera DOP and the cows that make it special.
First of all, what is DOP? This anagram stands for Denominazione di Origine Protetta and means that whatever the DOP product is, it has a specific zone in which it is produced. In the case of Raschera, it is only produced in the Province of Cuneo and more specifically in the towns of Frabosa Soprana, Frabosa Sottano, Roburent, Roccaforte Mondovì, Pamparato, Ormea, Garessio and Magliano Alpi. The latter is geographically interesting because it has pastureland in the mountains some 30 miles from the actual town’s location as the crow flies. These lands were distributed in contracts centuries ago and are still in effect today. This is important because Raschera made in the summer from the cows in the high mountain pastures also bears the name di alpeggio. Anytime you see the term alpeggio on any Italian cheese, it means the cows have been taken to graze in altitudes that can range from between 3000 and 7500 feet.
Raschera can be made with either raw or pasteurized cows’ milk and sometimes a small amount of sheep and/or goats’ milk. It is an ivory colored, semi-hard cheese with small, irregular “eyes,” a reddish-grey rind (and sometime yellow highlights) that can range between mild and moderately sharp depending on how long it has been aged. It can be aged a little as 30 days if using pasteurized milk and must be aged at least 60 days when made with raw milk. When I last had a cheese platter featuring Raschera, the selection featured cheese aged three, five and seven months. All of them were delicious!
While this wonderful cheese is not widely available in N. America, you can find it if you have a good cheese seller. Make sure you ask and treat yourself to a treat. This mouse (yes me) promises that if you like cheese, you will not be disappointed.
Just for fun, here are a few pictures of our hike from Rifugio Balma to Laghi della Brignola where the cows for Raschera are grazed…