True lovers of cheese and dairy products should know that there is only one place to visit during winter to taste and cultivate one's passion: it’s none other than the splendid Sogliano al Rubicone. During the last weeks of November and on the first Sunday of December, the city transforms into a fairytale-like setting for the traditional “Sagra del Formaggio diFossa di Sogliano al Rubicone”. This is a one-of-a-kind opportunity to taste an incredible gastronomic treasure whose origins are historically linked to the Malatesta Family. Here’s the story of a product that was born out of necessity and became a culinary excellence marked with the Protected Designation of Origin.
A story of necessity and excellence
Romagna bears a lasting mark of the Malatesta Family who built numerous fortresses on this land. Those simple structures that geometrically cut out the skies of Romagna, dominating atop hills and ridges, were once massive defensive fortifications that have witnessed numerous armed conflicts, feuds and battles that marked the history of the Malatesta Family. The family’s belligerent nature influenced the region’s politics (the Malatesta ruled large portions of Romagna, especially on the border with Marche, alternately with the Montefeltro family) but also the lives of ordinary people. Perhaps it was to secure food supply from enemy raids or to keep a reliable source in case of long military campaigns, but farmers began to “bury” cheese in pits that were dug in the ground, well hidden from the greedy eyes of mercenaries.
The particular method of conserving food in pits – then also applied for aging – probably dates back to the Middle Ages, but the first written records of this practice date back to the 14th century. Among the archive records about the Malatesta Family, we can find the first documents describing the method of aging in pits practiced in Sogliano. Moreover, Formaggio di Fossa di Sogliano DOP is also mentioned in two different inventories from the end of the 15th century: this proves that, at the time, it was customary to rent pits to cheese producers and allow them to complete the aging process. At this point, you may have rightly been wondering how Formaggio di Fossa di Sogliano DOP is produced and what it tastes like. Now we’ll now tell you more about it.
Formaggio di Fossa di Sogliano DOP: know what you eat
We need to clarify one thing: the production area indicated by the specification includes the Romagna provinces of Forlì-Cesena, Rimini and Ravenna, but also part of the provinces of Bologna, as well as those of Ancona, Macerata, Pesaro-Urbino and Ascoli Piceno, in Marche. This should not sound strange as we have seen that this practice began and developed along with the numerous wars and battles between the rival families of the Malatesta and the Montefeltro (who controlled a large part of the Marche) or the Bentivoglio (who ruled over Bologna and the surrounding area). Formaggio di Fossa di Sogliano DOP is a hard or semi-hard cheese, produced with whole cow's milk, sheep's milk or a mixture of the two. The animals that provide the milk for its production must exclusively come from farms within the designated production area, otherwise they could not label their cheese as Formaggio di Fossa di Sogliano DOP. The product is named after the pit where cheese is left to ferment and age: these pits are dug into the tuff or sandstone rock and are about 6 or 7 meters deep.
Before being lowered into the pits, the cheese wheels are put in bags made of natural cotton marked with serial numbers that identify the different producers. Aside from the aging process, another interesting fact is the “ritual” of preparing the pits. A few days before the cheeses are placed into the pits, straw is burnt where the wheels will be deposited in order to reduce the level of humidity within the space and sterilize it, eliminating harmful bacteria that could damage the cheese wheels. The walls are then lined with thick layers of straw held by complex wooden frames. At this point, the wheels are ready to be lowered into the pits, which are then sealed with plaster or mortar for as long as the aging process requires. After a period of 80 to 100 days (according to tradition, this must fall on the feast day of St. Catherine), out comes the exquisite Formaggio di Fossa di Sogliano DOP!
A product with unmistakable aroma and flavor
What does Formaggio di Fossa di Sogliano DOP taste like? What makes it so valuable and sought after? Thanks to the fermentation and degreasing processes which the wheels undergo, the cheese comes out of aging with particular color, flavor and shape. The color varies from white to straw yellow, depending on the type of milk used, and the cheese has an irregular shape since the wheels come out with almost no rind. The pungent smell of mold, sulfur and truffle hides a distinct flavor: very aromatic, slightly spicy with a bitter finish that will definitely conquer even the most skeptical palates. Formaggio di Fossa di Sogliano DOP is perfect on its own or with barely a spoonful of acacia or orange honey. You can also try the famous recipe for making cress with Formaggio di Fossa di Sogliano DOP! Its perfect pair is obviously none other than Romagna Albana DOCG. Enjoy your meal!