Formaggio al Tartufo
Made by Caseificio Bertagni near Pieve Fosciana in the province of Lucca, Italy, Formaggio al Tartufo is a medium-aged sheep’s milk cheese, studded with pieces of black truffle. 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, the inspiration for Formaggio al Tartufo came from a desire to create a cheese made with black truffles that could be used not only as a table cheese but also a wonderful ingredient in dishes such as pasta and polenta. 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 hazlenut. The whey is drained off and the pieces of black truffle are added to the curd. (The truffles are preserved in brine until they’re ready for use to prevent them from drying out.) The curd is then transferred into molds and held at a temperature of 100° F (38°C) for 3 to 4 hours in order to achieve the correct pH. When it has reached 5.4, the cheeses are dry salted by hand and, the following day, taken out of their molds. The young wheels are then transferred to a maturing room where they’re held at a temperature of 46-50° F (8-10°C) for a minimum of 30-40 days before release. The format of Formaggio al Tartufo is quite small, weighing in at about 1lb. The exterior rind is thin and slightly waxy and pale yellow in color. The interior paste is semi-soft and supple, ivory white in color and studded with flecks of black truffle. Flavors are delicate and mild. The rich characteristics of the sheep’s milk enhance the flavors of truffle, but both are kept in balance, complimenting each other. Aromas are of earth, hay and truffle.