Montebore makes a comeback: a king among cheeses

Montebore makes a comeback: a king among cheeses

Montebore

There are comebacks and comebacks on Italian tables: The comeback made by Montebore, the top-of-the-line cheese of Tortona has made a lot of noise, not only for its inimitable taste, (although a bit difficult at first if it’s new to you), but for its cylindrical form in the shape of a castle that make it a unique cheese, perhaps the only one of its kind in the world.

Even for the origins of this product we had to go way back in time. Just think that the first banquet in which it was mentioned, in 1489 in Tortona, for the wedding of Isabella of Aragon and Gian Galeazzo Sforza, had a special guest: Leonardo da Vinci.

On this occasion, it is sais that this great Italian genius, as master of ceremonies, proposed Montebore as the only cheese worthy or such a noble event. In spite of its aristocratic past, this cheese made with a blend of milks (70% cow’s milk and 30% sheep’s) from four breeds of cows (Brune Alpine, Tortonesi, Genovesi and Cabannina), after World War II and the depopulation of the Grue, Curone and Borbera Valleys (heart of the zone of production), it had practically disappeared.

Only sixteen years ago, Slow Food took up the “Montebore case”, creating a presidium that brought it back to life, thanks to the overwhelming passion of the latest agent of this tradition, Carolina Bracco, and a handful of enthusiastic producers and breeders.

But the great success of this Piedmontese cheese is also linked to modern marketing techniques applied to old tradition: indeed, what other cheese can boast a similar ‘skyline’, with its cone-shape with concentric circles and smaller and smaller diameters towards the top, so-called ‘castellinoì’ like a wedding cake (perhaps inspired by the tower of the castle of Montebore – now in ruins), that is difficult for gourmets and aesthetes alike to resist, especially if they like unusual shapes.

With a weight that may vary from 500 grams to a kilogram, Montebore is almost always eaten aged, unleashing flavours of milk and butter, but also chestnut, with hints of herbs: when older than four or five months, it becomes compact to the point that it can even be grated.

Now its production is safeguarded, but at the presidium, when it comes to marketing, they came up with a new scheme: inviting lovers of this cheese to ‘adopt a sheep’ to protect the integrity of the breeding facilities and raw materials.

Of course, it was a success.

Maurizio Ferrari
Journalist and ONAF Taster