Occelli al Barolo – the cheese that tastes as if it is drunk
I threw a party for a friend’s 70th birthday and I wanted something arresting and different to put on the cheese board.
I saw an occelli al Barolo at my favourite local cheese stall and it certainly seemed to fit the bill in terms of visual impact, not to mention the description:
“Cheese royalty meets wine royalty!”
When I served it up, my daughter exclaimed, “it tastes as if it’s drunk!”.
This is a cows’ milk cheese from Cuneo, the Italian alpine region which borders France’s alpes maritimes. If you’ve been searching on the internet you’ll see that some sources say the cheese includes or is entirely made from either sheep or goats’ cheese. I checked directly with the makers, and Bruno Fabio, responsible for quality, assures me, “le posso dire che attualmente per l’OCCELLI AL BAROLO viene utilizzato esclusivamente latte Vaccino” – currently, he is telling me, Occelli al barolo is exclusively made from cows’ milk.
It’s made by Beppino Occelli – by origin a butter producer, and the cheese does have a buttery taste. It’s aged for a minimum of five months in cellars at the village of Valcasotto and then taken to vineyards in Langhe where it’s sunk into a layer of nebbiolo grape pomace left over from Barolo wine production and moistened by the wine. The final texture of the cheese is flaky and soft with purple veining where the wine juice has seeped through the cracks.
It certainly is something special. In 1999 occelli al Barolo won the number one award from the Italian Slow Food movement in the ‘drunken cheese’ category. And in 2015-6 it won gold at the World Cheese Awards.
It goes very well with some sweet chorizo… and a glass of Barolo.
About ‘drunken cheese’
During the First World War foraging and scavenging armies would hoover up whole harvests and consume entire stocks of preserved foods. To protect themselves against famine some ingenious farmers in the Veneto invented the formaggio imbriago (drunken cheese) by hiding their cheeses in amongst the grape pomace (the solids comprising stems, seeds, skin etc left over from the wine pressing). Not only did this cheese keep longer, it also took on additional fruity, spicy flavours from its vine-produced covering.
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