|from the February 02, 2005 edition -
birthplace of Gorgonzola. Maybe. By Rebecca Helm-Ropelato | Contributor to The
Christian Science Monitor
ITALY - Ever since someone told me a few years ago that there is
a town in northern Italy named Gorgonzola, and that the townspeople,
the Gorgonzolesi, claim that their ancestors created the
famous cheese of the same name, I have wanted to go there to find
out if the proof is in the pudding - or in this case, the
In short, is the Gorgonzola in Gorgonzola really better?
I got my opportunity to find out last September. We arrived there
on the second day of the town's autumn fair. The annual three-day
festival celebrates the history and development of the rich, creamy
Meeting us at the metro station, after our half-hour ride from
our homebase in downtown Milan, was Enzo Casanova. A friend of a
friend, he and his family live in an adjoining town, and he offered
to give us an aficionado's tour of Gorgonzola.
I confess I was licking my lips in anticipation of the taste tour
that I was sure was awaiting us.
This was the moment I learned that no Gorgonzola is made in
Gorgonzola anymore. One reason, Enzo pointed out, is that the town
has been absorbed into the greater Milan metropolitan area and is no
longer the big farming area it once was. Instead it's a bedroom
community for commuters.
The major cheese producers are now in nearby towns and provinces,
and one, Pasturo, even claims that it, rather than Gorgonzola, is
the birthplace of the pungent cheese.
One thing Gorgonzola is not relinquishing, however, is its
assertion that it is the place to come if you want to see where the
namesake cheese was first created. The annual festival is a loud
declaration of this.
The Sagra Nazionale del Gorgonzola ( sagra means festival)
takes over the center of the small village. The hub of the
celebration is on Via Italia, the town's short main street.
For the first half hour, we wandered along this street, happily
accepting free samples of Gorgonzola dolce and Gorgonzola
piquant, served melted or at room temperature on bite-size
chunks of bread.
Somewhat satisfied, we followed Enzo as he led us through an
adjacent street to another section of the village a few blocks away.
Along the way, we passed more booths with various types and brands
of Gorgonzola and freshly made breads on sale. Restaurants were also
open, with tables and umbrellas set up outside their
doors.Did Leonardo enjoy Gorgonzola?
At the end of the street is the narrow Martesana canal. Admired
and studied by Leonardo da Vinci, the canal was built in 1457 and is
one of a small network spreading out in various directions from
Milan. The canal attracts many visitors to Gorgonzola, Enzo told us,
adding that according to local legend, da Vinci also laid out the
master plan for the village while he was visiting in the area.
It was just after we crossed the low-arched stone bridge over the
canal that we saw the other big star of the fair, Amaranto. She was
hustling her 1,500 pounds across her temporary pen toward an
admiring crowd of fans. Thrusting her big head through the narrow
metal poles of the makeshift fence, she placidly accepted the
caresses of the dozens of hands of her fans, her great eyes gazing
here and there, thinking only a cow knows what.
A few yards away we met her owner, Emilio Manzoni. A dairy farmer
from Gorgonzola, Mr. Manzoni was demonstrating how to make a simple
cheese and then distributing small scoops of the freshly made white
curd to his audience. "In my opinion, it needs a little sugar and a
little salt," one taster said, playing critic. Mr. Manzoni just
smiled good-naturedly and continued handing out the samples.
When I asked about Amaranto, he told me she is a Brown Swiss, the
ancient breed from the Alps that first provided the milk for making
Gorgonzola. Today, he said, cheesemakers prefer another breed,
Holstein Friesian, because its milk output is greater.Once
upon a cow
But Amaranto and her ancestors still have the place of honor in
the legend of how Gorgonzola came to be created, and so Manzoni
brings her to the fair for people to see.
Although no official documentation exists of the cheese's birth,
its origins are estimated to go as far back as the 13th century or
In one version of the story, it is said that in those days,
herdsmen from the north brought their cows down from the mountains
in September to graze on the lush, sweet grass of the plains
surrounding Milan. The first stop along the southern migration was
the tiny settlement of Gorgonzola. To show their gratitude to the
local landowners for the grazing rights, the herdsmen offered them
the milk from the herd. It was with this large supply of milk that
the Gorgonzolesi started to make and sell cheese.
This first cheese was called stracchino, from the Italian
word meaning "tired." It is a reference to the milk that came from
the cows that were exhausted after their long migration south.
The lowly stracchino's successor, Gorgonzola, was an
As writer Oriana Morini Casalini recounts it, one evening, a
love-struck casaro, or cheesemaker, rushed out to meet his
girlfriend without finishing his work. The following morning,
fearing he might lose his job if it was discovered he had thrown out
the previous day's batch of unfinished cheese curd, he
surreptitiously dumped it in with the new milk supply.
This set in motion a process that produced a greenish-blue-veined
curd with a strange look and a pungent odor - sometimes compared to
smelly socks by detractors - and Gorgonzola cheese was born.
We thought about this as we headed home with Enzo and to a
dinner, prepared by his wife, Teresa, of pasta with Gorgonzola
Teresa had recently completed a course in gastronomy offered by
La Cucina Italiana and is passionate about food. Now she is using
her training as a volunteer at the school her 11-year-old son,
Marco, attends. She gives the children lessons in food appreciation
and nutrition.The world's best cheeses
In her small but well-equipped kitchen, as she was preparing the
pasta sauce, I asked Teresa if she agreed with the popular notion
that France has the best cheeses. The other three Italians sitting
nearby immediately and vigorously dissented, but the more
food-democratic Teresa agreed that France has excellent cheeses.
Italy's cheeses are just as good, however, she said, and more
And her ranking of the top three cheeses in the world? The answer
was instantaneous: Parmigiano-Reggiano, grana padano, and
All Italian, of course.Teresa's Mezzani With Walnuts and
l pound mezzani (or substitute ziti, penne, or long
5 to 7 ounces Gorgonzola cheese
1/3 to 1/2 cup
l tablespoon butter
Salt (for pasta
Parsley, if desired, for garnish
Bring 4 quarts of salted water to a full boil and add pasta. Cook
according to package directions.
Meanwhile, cut the Gorgonzola into small pieces and put into a
large pan together with the butter and about three-fourths of the
walnuts. Set the pan aside.
When the pasta is done, remove it from the stove and turn the
burner to high. Drain pasta, reserving about 1 cup of the cooking
water. Immediately add the hot pasta and 1/4 to 1/2 cup of the hot
pasta water to the cheese mixture in the large pan. Place the pan on
the hot burner for about 1 minute, stirring to blend. Add a little
more hot pasta water, if necessary, to achieve creaminess.
Sprinkle with chopped parsley and divide among 6 dinner plates,
garnishing with remaining walnuts and parsley sprigs.