For American fans of Marzolino Rosso, the hunt for the Tuscan cheese has been akin to that for Melville’s white whale. Produced in the Garfagnana, a remote mountainous region, this young pecorino has historically been made with 100-percent sheep’s milk, and its rind rubbed with tomato paste to ward off unwanted mold growth. Verano Bertagni, who operates the artisan cheesemaking operation founded by his father, Bruno, makes his version with mixed milk—a combination of sheep, cow, and goat that changes depending on the season. While some producers now use commercial colorants, Bertagni follows the tradition of rubbing the cheese with tomato, which gives the exterior of the two-pound, oval-shaped cheese a rosy hue (rosso means red in Italian) and the soft interior a subtle, earthy flavor.
Marzolino Rosso is quite popular in Tuscany, where it is often enjoyed as a snack with a glass of Chianti. So popular, in fact, that there has not been enough of it to go around. Rogers Collection, the exclusive importer of Bertagni Marzolino Rosso, had sporadic access to the cheese over the last decade—until 2018, when it became entirely unavailable for export. That has recently changed. “Because of our long-standing relationship, Verano has invested in purchasing more animals, and thus has more milk, says Rogers Collection Managing Director Carrie Blakeman. “After hearing over and over again that Americans were lusting after a true Marzolino Rosso, he has begun producing extra to allocate wheels for the US market.”
While Bertagni Marzolino Rosso makes an unusual addition to a cheese board, Lydia Burns, cheese educator for Rogers Collection, suggests other ways of enjoying the distinctive cheese. “Because it’s younger and has a higher moisture content, it melts very beautifully,” she says. “I like to think of it as pizza cheese, you really get the creamy, soft lactic notes that you would get from the melted cheese on the pizza, as well as a little bit of that tomato finish if you eat the rind.”