Fossa Cheese "Ambra" from Talamello
Talamello is a pearl of a town in many ways: there is a small historical centre on the top of a mountain that overlooks the valley and is very much “in” nowadays, there are chestnut tree-lined roads where one can go for wonderful walks in clean air, there are many valuable works of art, and there is the formaggio di fossa, a pit cheese. And that’s usually where one ends all exploration and stays where your palate tells you to!
The poet Tonino Guerra called it “ambra” because of its colour, but a name is not a description: after all, the taste is what’s important! It is good, fragrant, spicy and can be combined with many other foods. Watch out though, it is quite rich, very high calory count, so enjoy it in moderation!
Who knows what happened many centuries ago on those mountains! In about the 15th century, the land population of the Romagnolo and Marche part of the Appennines probably were tired of being robbed by whoever happened to pass by, marauding groups, arrogant militia, and all kinds of other robbers and highwaymen. They began to hide their provisions underground, hastily and stealthily: among the rocks, in natural or man-made holes.
Firstly, this ensured that they had some food to last them through the winter. Secondly, they also discovered that cheese kept in such a place for three months, changed, and became a bit smelly, but was quite edible nonetheless.
With time, these unstructured beginnings became more methodic and well-organised. The pits where the cheese is kept to mature are dug into the sandstone and valued like priceless diamonds: cleaned, renovated and lined with approprate materials. The cheese is put underground in August, and is recovered in late autumn.
The smell is now called and perceived as a fragrance, and what fragrance! In the pits, the cheese take on traces of wood, truffles, moss from its surroundings. The taste varies from sweet to spicy, or even slightly bitter depending on the kind of milk used and, of course, on the pit.
In November, the little town donates two Sundays to the Sagra del Formaggio di Fossa “Ambra di Talamello” (food fair of pit cheese), together with a series of other typical products that are either from this region or from various places in Italy.
It is certainly worth a visit!