The history of cheese in the Marche is as old and fascinating as that of the pastoral tradition.

Ancient sources have taught us that typical Marchigiani cheeses were already very popular during the reign of Augustus in Rome, while in the XVI century the Casciotta d’Urbino had such admirers as Michelangelo, who preferred it in spring, when the cheese exudes its finest characteristics.

Still today, Casciotta cheese is made by blending just the right amount of local sheep and cow milk, which is then left to clot at 35°C and put into stamps where a special manual technique is used to press it.

Thanks to a wise combination of technology and tradition, Casciotta can now be enjoyed all year round. A thin crust is the sign of a brief period of aging (15-30 days) and gives the cheese a sweet and delicate milklike flavour. The body of the cheese, which is sold in small rounds, is strawwhite, compact, has small air pockets and crumbles quite easily. It is made in the Province of Pesaro- Urbino and is the first to merit a DOP designation which protects it within the European Community.

In some of the areas of the Marche they make Sogliano cave-aged cheese (formaggio di fossa), a very old, traditional cheese which was born from the wisdom of farmers in the north of the region. The old production method is still in use today and dates back to when the pre- cious foodstuff needed to be protected from marauding soldiers. The cheese was placed in cloth bags and put into tuff caves that were then closed with wooden covers and sealed with plaster. When the caves were finally opened in November (but never before three months had gone by), the Casciottas were drastically transformed. They had taken on a golden hue not unlike amber and an intense aroma bearing vague hints of sulphur and truffles, a characteristic which makes them unmistakable.

The range of pecorino (or sheep-milk) cheeses made in the mountainous areas of the region, where the sheep are left to roam, is vast. In the Sibillini mountains, for example, they flavour the cheese with marjoram, wild thyme, bramble buds, cloves, nutmeg, pepper and olive oil, all blended into egg yolks.

As it sets, the mixture dissolves into the milk and the heat of the fire does the rest. The cheese is compact, has a straw-yellow colour when fresh and its flavour intensifies as it ages, which can sometimes take over a year.

In the north of the Marche you can still find pecorino cheese aged in oak casks, barrels or vats, where it is left for up to three months wrapped in walnut leaves or, as an alternative, left layered with aromatic herbs or wine marc. The wide variety of Marchigiano cheeses is completed with several products really only available where they are made,like Casecc, goat cheese, slattato, raviggiolo and cacio cheese, which is shaped somewhat like a lemon, dates to the Middle Ages and was on the list of the foods for the kitchen of Bartolomeo Scappi, a cook at the papal court in the XVI century.

Text was taken up and elaborated by the pubblication “Made in Marche – 0km flavours and quality shopping”