A speciality of the Valle Grana, in the province of Cuneo, Castelmagno is a cheese made with cow’s milk from four different breeds. It comes in two different types: the blue label, which is produced at an altitude not superior to 600m, and the most renowned green-labelled Castelmagno d’Alpeggio, made with the milk from the higher summer pastures, at an altitude not inferior to 1000m.
The cattle involved in the making of Castelmagno are from the Pezzata Rossa d’Oropa, Bruna, Montbéliarde, Grigio Alpine and Barà Pustertaler breeds. About 30,000 wheels are produced every year, at an altitude not inferior to 600m, by a small group of cheese makers, not exceeding 15 units. Regardless of the hardships of mountain life, passion is a major trigger for the production of Castelmagno, which is still handmade with techniques handed down from one generation to the next. Castelmagno was awarded a DOC (CDO Controlled Designation of Origin) in 1982, and a DOP (PDO Protected Designation of Origin) in 1996. The never-fading popularity of Castelmagno is due to its distinctive taste reminiscent of the herbs and wild garlic of the high mountain pastures where the cattle graze on.
The production of Castelmagno lasts five to six days. The milk utilised is obtained by mixing the raw milk of two milkings, and heating it in steel boilers up to 38°C, using calf rennet. The curd is then broken down to small grain and separated from the serum, which comes afloat. It is subsequently left to drain off for about 24 hours and collected in tanks, where it is left rest for further three days under the serum. This stage is responsible for the distinctive sourness of Castelmagno. On the fifth day the curd is usually pulled out, chopped, salted and pressed for 24-48 hours in order to facilitate the discharge of serum residues. Maturing, which occurs either in underground cellars or in cool and humid refrigerators, takes two to five months. The fresher wheels of Castelmagno are usually pearl or ivory white, with a crumbly grain and a delicate, slightly salty flavour. The rind is thin, smooth and a reddish-yellow colour, whereas the more matured wheels have a firmer, brownish-ochre grain, with greenish-blue veins, a thicker, darker and wrinklier rind and a stronger flavour. This cheese comes in a cylindrical wheel with flat faces measuring 15- 25cm in diameter, 12- 20 cm circumference and weight ranging from 2 to 7kg.
Castelmagno is best served with a ladleful of polenta and a nice glass of wine. It can be paired with medium and full-bodied wines, whose rich bouquet as well as adequate tannin and alcohol content provide a good counterbalance to the intense flavour of the cheese. A few examples include, Barolo DOCG, Barbaresco DOCG and passito raisin wines, such as Piemonte Moscato Passito DOC or Passito di Pantelleria. Castelmagno is featured in a number of traditional recipes, like gnocchi in a cheese fondue, risotto and tagliolini. It is excellent when fresh and still grainy as it is when matured and tinged with blue veins.