Produced in Irpinia in the Campania Region of southern Italy, Caciocavallo Podolico is made from the raw milk of a rare breed of Italian cow: the Podolica.
The Podolica's ability to adapt to the harsh conditions of this inland area has aided its survival through the centuries. Between November and June, the herds are based on the lower pastures of Puglia. In June, accompanied by shepherds, they move up the mountains to an altitude of about 3,600 feet. There they feed on upland grasses and mountain plants such as nettles, blueberries, rosehips, hawthorn, cornelian cherries, juniper, and wild strawberries. These flavors can be tasted in the cheese.
During these months the shepherds transform themselves into cheesemakers, producing Caciocavallo Podolico (a pasta filata style of cheese, meaning that the curd is stretched, in this case into a ball shape). The unusual elongated shape of Caciocavallo Podolico is a result of the young cheeses being tied with rope to make a "neck" and then suspended over a wooden rod to mature.
Cheeses are aged for about three months in the herders' mountain huts. The summer season ends in November, at which time the shepherds bring their cows and cheeses down to lower slopes for the winter.
Caciocavallo literally means "horse cheese," and although the meaning of the name has been debated for centuries, it's probably derived from the traditional method of transport; the cheeses would be suspended like saddlebags across a horse's flank for the journey down the mountain.
Caciocavallo Podolico has a smooth rind that thickens as the cheese matures for up to one year, at which point flavors are complex and intense, with savory vegetal notes of smoke, herbs, toast and barnyard that are balanced by an intense fruitiness and lactic tang.
The texture is hard and quite dry with occasional holes.
A good wine pairing would be a well structured red from southern Italy with a mineraly quality.