This story ends with a demolished disk of cheese. Flattened by swooping baguette or scooped with a spoon until all that’s left is a withered wisp of wrinkly rind, it’s the first casualty of your cheese board each single time. However the place did it begin? As in the case of most cheeses, a search for robiola’s origin story takes us again to an Previous World village that seems frozen in time. Snow-capped peaks body its green hillsides, dotted with bearded, rigorously bred caprines perched on patches of terraced land.
That village is Roccaverano and the region is Piedmont: northwestern Italy’s gustatory heartland. It’s the land of white truffles, the Sluggish Meals movement, and the Nebbiolo grape. Wedged between the Alps and the Mediterranean, Piedmont is the place mountains meet hills. Agile goats have long roamed the slopes in a southeastern section referred to as Alta Langa, grazing on herbs and shrubs, while isolated cities and villages bred distinct herds and developed eponymous cheeses.
The original Robiola di Roccaverano cheese, made out of milk of the Roccaverano goat, in all probability got here from a spot referred to as—you guessed it—Roccaverano. In accordance with Fabrizio Garbarino, a farmer and cheesemaker from that very same hilltop Piedmont village, robiola was made in Roccaverano earlier than the Romans arrived; its origins might date again as far as 1,200 years to the time of Arab invasions, when goats have been first introduced to the space.
In the panorama of cheese from Italy—a country famous for rock-hard grana wheels and stretched-curd pasta filatas like mozzarella and provolone—delicate, bloomy-rind robiola is exclusive. “It’s one of the most ancient goat’s milk cheeses in Italy,” says Garbarino, who also serves as president of the Robiola di Roccaverano PDO consortium, the country’s only Protected Designation of Origin label for a goat’s milk cheese. “It’s one of the only ancient Italian cheeses made with lactic transformation,” he adds, referring to an extended acidification that occurs earlier than milk coagulates—a course of more typically found in the traditional goat’s milk cheeses of France.
The follow is straightforward and sluggish. Uncooked goat’s milk (or a mixture of goat’s milk and as much as 50 % cow’s milk) is left to acidify for as much as 36 hours. Micro organism—current in the uncooked milk and typically boosted with a little bit of leftover whey—eat the milk’s sugars and create acid until a yogurt-y consistency develops. A small quantity of animal rennet may be added to slightly firm up the curd, which is then left in a tall cylindrical mould as whey drains out slowly over two days. After salting and 4 subsequent days of getting older, the cheese earns its PDO label and may be bought.
Young fresco versions are delicate and spreadable, either rindless or with a velvety layer of mould. After 10 days of getting old, disks develop into affinato, or “ripened.” They’re nonetheless supple and yielding in the paste, but they’ve grown a rind, its hue and texture dictated by the microbes present in the uncooked milk and in the surroundings on the farm. It’s a mixture of fuzz and wrinkles; a variety from bone-white to mild pink-orange.
In cheese time, 10 days isn’t so long; most variations of Robiola di Roccaverano are primarily bought recent. But in the United States, it’s a unique story. Because it’s made with unpasteurized milk, Robiola di Roccaverano have to be aged at the very least 60 days to be bought legally. For such a young and smooth cheese, a two-month maturation is a challenge—a timeline that basically modifications the cheese. Garabino, certainly one of only 17 producers of the principally farmstead PDO cheese, sighs with exasperation—and a touch of pity—when he describes the cheese’s absence from American cheese counters. “We are very clean, and you should trust in us,” he says. “But…you are scared from the raw milk.” He’s right—and in case you’ve by no means heard of Robiola di Roccaverano, that’s in all probability why.
Even when you’ve by no means heard of Robiola di Roccaverano, you’ve in all probability heard of La Tur. When Piedmont-based dairy Caseificio dell’Alta Langa introduced this pasteurized twist on robiola to the US in the early 2000s, it was singular on the market; a mixed-milk, soft-ripened cheese from Italy was uncommon. The caseificio began by exporting small quantities of two different robiola-style cheeses, Rochetta (a recent cow’s, sheep’s, and goat’s milk combine) and Robiola Bosina (a cow’s and sheep’s milk blend). Quickly, distributors in the US took notice. When The Cheese Works (now generally known as CWI Specialty Meals) started putting massive orders for Alta Langa’s super-soft, triple-milk button La Tur, it wasn’t lengthy before the robiola-style cheese gained a cult following.
It’s not exhausting to know why: with a beguiling mixture of approachability and complexity, La Tur is straightforward to like. In her cheese column for the San Francisco Chronicle, writer Janet Fletcher dubbed it “as close to love as a cheese can get.” In a bit for Thrillist, cheese blogger Erika Kubick described it as “the cream dream.” In Bon Appétit, digital director Carey Polis referred to as it “everything I want in a cheese.” La Tur’s mousse-like paste is as crowd-pleasing and spreadable as that of ubiquitous grocery store brie—nevertheless it lacks the brie’s chewy, obtrusive rind. Flavors are delicate and creamy, yet a better sniff reveals multi-layered notes of sour cream, butter, and mushrooms, extended by a fatty stratum that sticks around.
When a cheese is that likeable, promoting it is a cinch. “Actually, we never relied on marketing strategies,” says Nicola Merlo, CEO of Caseificio dell’Alta Langa. “Our approach was to make customers try the products, and we relied on word of mouth.” Because of its “unexpected success,” she adds, “La Tur started selling very well before other cheeses in the robiola category.”
In bringing robiola types stateside, Alta Langa achieved a feat that was previously out of attain for the typical Piedmont producer. The caseificio is about in robiola nation, just a stone’s throw from the village of Roccaverano (and it even produces a PDO version of the traditional cheese for its non-US clients), nevertheless it’s decidedly bigger and extra trendy than the family farms that surround it.
In the present day the dairy exports a mess of robiola types in various milk mixes and levels of maturation. In response to Merlo, that variation itself riffs on regional custom; in an space the place cheese was sometimes made on small farms that stored a mixture of animals, milk supply modified with the seasons (that’s additionally the purpose traditional Robiola di Roccaverano PDO might be made with as much as 50 % cow’s milk).
“Farmers would mix different milks, and we wanted to reinterpret this old tradition in our cheeses,” Merlo says, including that each milk has its personal style and character. Combining them in the proper percentages brings out the greatest in each, without any one dominating. “The cow’s milk is the base, the sheep’s milk adds the sweetness, and the goat’s milk adds the sharpness,” she says.
Merlo doesn’t hesitate to make use of the time period “robiola” to describe all her cheeses. Whereas Robiola di Roccaverano PDO may be traced to a single goat breed and a single village, she says, “robiola” is a moniker with a wider which means. “It’s a general name that indicates a soft-ripened cheese which is not too aged,” she explains, adding that it might originate from the Latin time period ruber (“red” or “ruddy”),a reference to the slight scarlet tinge that typically develops on its rind.
Following the success of cheeses like La Tur, loads of Italian producers at the moment are exporting soft-ripened robiola types and experimenting with mixed-milk alchemy. Robiola La Contessa, for instance, is a cow’s and sheep’s milk robiola imported by Ambrosi Meals. Made at a dairy referred to as Marenchino in the Alta Langa area, the cheese’s success has helped save the Pecora della Langa sheep from extinction. Guffanti Formaggi, an affineur based mostly in Piedmont, ages and exports over a dozen twists on robiola—from the buffalo’s milk Robiola di Bufala, a dense, ultra-buttery disk that feels more like an Italian take on a brie or camembert, to variations wrapped in fig, cherry, chestnut, or cabbage leaves.
In fact, it follows that American producers at the moment are experimenting with their very own versions of the Italian cheese. Samantha Genke of North Carolina–based mostly Boxcarr Handmade Cheese first discovered Robiola di Roccaverano PDO while touring in Piedmont, visiting producers and staying with native associates. “We had the real thing fresh,” she says. “Actually, I don’t think we ate much else for about a month.” But after she received residence, a seek for the recent Italian cheese was fruitless. “By the time we get access to robiolas herein North Carolina, they tend to be a little too ripe,” she says. “So we started making robiola because we love robiola. And we wanted robiola.”
Genke teamed up with shut good friend Alessandra Trompeo, a Piedmont transplant, to create an homage to the Italian cheese. Absolutely aware that their milk and native terroir would render this robiola very totally different, the duo didn’t stick with a selected recipe. The thought was to make use of Robiola di Roccaverano as inspiration, and just experiment. After years of testing, it’s advanced into a cow’s milk square referred to as Rosie’s Robiola, a stunning cheese with a blushing, wrinkly rind and an oozing cream line that creeps in the direction of a chalky paste. The workforce also makes Rocket’s Robiola, a model dusted in ash impressed by cheeses from the Loire Valley in France. Neither of those is Robiola di Roccaverano, Genke admits. They’re variations. “We kind of winged it. We totally Americanized it,” Genke says.
As for the cheese that first inspired Genke, it’s not unimaginable to seek out in the United States. The household at Guffanti Formaggi ages a version of Robiola di Roccaverano PDO for 2 months with a purpose to promote it in the US, slowing down the maturation process by retaining the disks at slightly cooler temperatures. Giovanni Guffanti Fiori, second-generation co-owner of the firm, notes that it’s not unusual to seek out Robiola di Roccaverano bought after 60 or 70 days of maturation in Italy—typically, it’s even aged as much as a yr and grated onto pasta. It’s still good, he provides, so long as “the taste fills the palate without becoming aggressive or spicy.”
Even when you’ve never met a robiola type you didn’t like, there’s one thing about this one that units it apart—like the added oomph you get from a taste of cultured butter as an alternative of a stick from the supermarket. It’s clear and creamy, with a fluffy, cheesecake-like middle, but a chew yields a posh end balanced with bitterness, tang, and funk. The rind is mushy with an virtually liquid cream line that readily collapses until it’s handled with utmost gentleness.
It’s not exhausting to imagine why all those disks, from La Tur to Rosie’s Robiola, pay tribute to this Piedmont cheese. Perhaps it’s the unpasteurized base, or the proven fact that this model is made with 100 % goat’s milk. Or perhaps it’s the image of the Alta Langa, with its hills and vineyards and stone villages. Both approach, every thing about this cheese is straightforward to love. Move the spoon?
Photographed by Nina Gallant.
Styled by Chantal Lambeth.