Taleggio is a soft, table cheese produced predominately in Lombardy with a couple of cheese-makers working outside the region, in Novarese and Treigiano. The cheese’s name comes from the Taleggio Valley in the province of Bergamo. Since the end of the nineteenth century until the beginning of the twentieth, it was classified as a type of Stracchino or Quartirolo and went by the name of “Stracchino quadro di Milano”. In 1914, the cheese became “Stracchino quadro di Taleggio” and it took about 10 more years for people to recognize the cheese by its name, Taleggio.
Like many other alpine cheeses, Taleggio was born out of the need to preserve the milk left over from home consumption. It was made by hand at home and aged in local caves, including the famous ones in the Sassina Valley. According to sources from up to 1200, Taleggio was often used for bartering.
Still today, you can find artisinal Taleggio, especially in the mountains. The cheese is made with whole cow’s milk that is heated to 86°-97°F and to which fermented milk and animal rennet is added. The milk coagulates in about 15 to 20 minutes. The curd is then broken in two intervals and left to rest in between. The resulting curds should be the size of hazelnuts. After about 10 minutes of rest, the cheese mass in places in metal molds to remove any excess whey. The wheels are then placed in rooms at 72°-77°F with about 90% humidity. They are often turned during the first 18 hours.
The wheels are removed from the molds for salting by hand or in brine. The cheese is aged for about 40 days in traditional caves or aging rooms with similar temperature and humidity. During aging, the wheels are often cleaned of excess molt and sponged with water and salt, giving them their characteristic rosy color.
A block of Taleggio should have a rectangular shape and be 1.7-2.8 in high, 8-11 in wide, and weigh between 3.3 to 4.4 lbs. It has a thin, soft, rose-hued rind with light grey-green mold. The paste is compact, soft, even softer in the center. It is white- or straw-colored with tiny holes, or occhiatura. Its flavor is sweet, slightly acidic, and aromatic with an aftertaste of truffle, which is the odor that develops during aging.
Taleggio is a soft cheese that pairs well with fruit or honey. The rind does not need to be removed, just cleaned lightly. It melts easily and can be used in pasta dishes, pizzas, etc.
In the library
F. BRAMBILLA, Cucina e vini della Lombardia con 598 ricette, Milano, Mursia, 1971;
ACCADEMIA ITALIANA DELLA CUCINA, Il taleggio e la Valsassina, Lecco, Accademia italiana della cucina, Delegazione di Lecco, 1997;
Il taleggio e le sue ricette, Milano, Consorzio per la tutela del formaggio Taleggio, [200.?];
INSOR-Istituto nazionale di sociologia rurale, Dizionario enciclopedico dei formaggi, Milano, Mondadori Doc, 2008;
Atlante Qualivita 2009, Milano, Edizioni del Gusto, 2008.