Made by Caseificio Bertagni near Pieve Fosciana in the province of Lucca, Italy, Taula is an aged sheep’s milk cheese, similar in style to a pecorino.
Milk for production comes from the (somewhat rare) breeds of Massese and Garfagnina sheep and is sourced from seventeen small farms, located high in the mountains between Northern Toscana and Emilia Romagna. This mountain range is known as "Appennino Tosco Emiliano" and the majority of the farms are situated at an altitude of over 3,000 feet.
Caseificio Bertagni is owned and run by Bruno Bertagni and his son Verano. Although they make a variety of cheeses, Taula is one of the most traditional cheeses of "Alta Garfagnana", the highest part of Toscana region. In the local dialect, "Taula" means 'a wooden table specifically for cheese maturing'.
Upon arrival at the creamery, the milk is pasteurized at 161-165° F (72-74°C) for 15 seconds. It is then allowed to cool to 95-104° F (35-40°C), when the starter cultures are added. After a short period of waiting to allow the cultures to become fully active, rennet is added to coagulate the milk. This normally takes about 40 minutes, at which point the curd is cut with a special cheese “harp” (known as a “chitarra”), and left to rest for 10 minutes, soaking in the whey. The curd is further broken down with a special implemt called a “spino” – the same instrument that is used for the production of Parmigiano Reggiano – which looks rather like a giant balloon whisk on the end of a pole. Simultaneously, the curds and whey are re-heated and cooked at a temperature of 107°F (42 °C ). At the end of this process, each piece of curd is about the size of a grain of rice.
The curds are then transferred to the cheese molds and kept at a temperature of 100°F (38 °C ) for four hours. This allows the pH level to get to the desired 5.1, at which point the cheeses are dry salted by hand.
The following day, the cheeses are taken out of their molds and transferred to maturing rooms where they’re kept at a temperature of 46-50° F (8-10°C) for a minimum of 60 days.
The texture of Taula is very firm and pleasantly waxy. The exterior rind is a dark beige color with the interior slightly lighter. Flavors are very rich, earthy and balanced with notes of hay, caramel and nuts. This would pair very well with a medium weight Chianti Classico, Pinot Noir or Rhone wine.