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Caciocavallo Podolico

10 ins length, 6 ins diameter
4-5 lbs
Pasta Filata (mozzarella-type)

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 is the main reason for their survival down the centuries. Between November and June, the herds are based on the lower pastures of Puglia. In June, accompanied by shepherds, they move higher up the mountains to an altitude of about 3,600 ft. There, the cows' diet consists entirely of 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 very able 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 the lower slopes for the winter.

'Caciocavallo' literally means 'horse cheese' and although the meaning of the name has been debated for centuries, it is probably derived from the traditional method of transport, where 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 mature. Cheeses can be matured 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 minerally quality.