Cheese lovers may want to travel to Italy’s Sogliano al Rubicone in November.
This little town in the Romagna region is famously known for the historical river Rubicon, which Emperor Julius Caesar crossed as he uttered, “Alea iacta est” (“The die is cast”). But it is also known for the traditional formaggio di fossa, a cheese that is buried at the end of August in underground pits (fossa) and resurrected in late November.
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The technique of the infossatura (the burying) dates back to the 15th century, when Romagna residents used to hide food in secret pits to protect it from Aragonese troops plundering the country. Formaggio di fossa can be made with sheep’s milk (which has an aromatic taste and a piquant flavor), cow’s milk (which is delicate, slightly sour and salty, with a bitter aftertaste) or misto, from both milks (well-balanced taste with bittery hints).
The cheese is wrapped in a cloth bag and stacked right up to the mouth of the pit, then covered with more canvas to prevent transpiration. Typically, a pit measures almost 10 feet high, including the neck, with a base of about 6 1/2 feet in circumference. The pit is prepared by burning straw, which removes moisture and damp air, and also reduces bacteria, which may be harmful to fermentation. After the cheese is placed in the pit, a wooden lid is placed over the opening. It is sealed with plaster or chalk, and then covered with stones and sand.
Once the cheese has matured, about three months later, the bags of cheese are taken out.
Annalisa’s favorite fossa cheese dish
The sfossatura (the unearthing) occurs on Nov. 25, the day dedicated to Saint Caterina. Sogliano and the nearby town of Talamello celebrate the event with the annual Festival of Fossa Cheese, a joyous day during which you can visit area farms and enjoy the cheese market.
The process of fermentation gives the cheese a particular flavor, as well as a reduction of whey and fat. It has an uneven shape, a hard or semihard and easily friable consistency, and a color that spans from white to amber. The aroma is strong, with hints of sulfur, mold and truffles, and a pungent taste on the bitterish side. Fossa cheese has been granted DOP status (Denominazione di Origine Protetta), the Italian equivalent of protected designation of origin.
I met with Annalisa Raduano, owner of Caseificio Pascoli in Talamello, a family-managed factory well known for producing artisanal cheeses, including the DOP fossa. She told me that it can be eaten on its own or served with a piece of bread or piadina, or used for preparing a number of regional dishes, such as the traditional broth with cappelletti. It can even be served as a dessert with honey. Annalisa loves to pair the sharp taste of the cheese with the sweetness of the pumpkin in this soup. It’s a quite simple recipe.
I made it, I tasted it, and I loved it.
Pumpkin and fossa cheese soup
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 35 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes
Servings: 6 to 8
14 ounces pumpkin or yellow squash
2 ounces fossa cheese
3.5 ounces butter
1.7 ounces spinach
3 cups vegetable broth
1/2 cup whipping cream
Salt and pepper
1. Peel the pumpkin and cut it into cubes. In a pan, melt half the butter with the onion finely chopped, add half of the diced pumpkin, pour the broth and cook 20 minutes.
2. Add the cream, salt and pepper. Mix in the blender to get a thick purée.
3. In a pan, melt the remaining butter, add the remaining pumpkin, salt and pepper and cook for 10 minutes.Then add the chopped spinach. Stir for 10 minutes.
4. Divide the cream among six to eight dishes, sprinkle over the diced pumpkin and the spinach, and garnish with fossa cheese cut into thin slices. Let the cheese melt down and serve immediately.
Main photo: Fossa cheese can be eaten simply with piadina and figs. Credit: Photo Courtesy of Caseifico Pascoli