Thursday, March 31, 2011

Being called the pits is no longer something to be worried about!

The wheels of cheese in their cloth bags
placed in the pit in August.

The pit lined with reeds & hay
3-4metres deep.

What is so wonderful about Italy is the sheer diversity from one region to another, often even from one town to another within the same region. I love so many of the twenty Italian regions that make up the nation, however I have a particular soft spot for Romagna in the region of Emilia-Romagna, situated north-east of Tuscany on the Adriatic coast. The main cities in Romagna are Rimini, Ravenna, Cesena, Forlì and Imola and there are numerous fantastic little towns and villages nestled in the regions hills. During the Renaissance, alot of the land was, for the most part, ruled by the Pope as part of his temporal domain. 

Here, bread is replaced with the piadina (a flat type of bread that resembles Indian naan or thin Greek pitta bread), the typical pasta is the strozzapreti (stangled priests) and in certain places they bury their cheese in pits for the last three months of the maturation process! 

This type of cheese (from sheep or cow milk or a mix of both) is called formaggio di fossa (cheese from the pit). It is documented to have been matured like this from the fifteenth century and is typical of Sogliano al Rubicone, a hill-top village not too far from Rimini. It is also practised in some places in region of the Marches and in Umbria

In August, after the cheese has matured in the open for 2-3 months, the farmers wrap the cheese wheels in white cloth with their names written on the exterior and then place them in pits, about 3-4 metres deep and shaped like a fiasco (the traditional bottle shape of chianti wine), that have been dug out from the tufa stone mountain wall. The pit is then covered and securely sealed with a wooden lid and plaster to be opened three months later. 

Traditionally, this was a way to hide the cheese (their food for the coming winter months) from  plundering bandits and armies. Every year the pits were cleaned by burning straw and twigs and then  lining them with reeds and hay, placing a rack at the bottom so that the cloth bags avoid contact with the whey drippings. 

In Sogliano al Rubicone the pits were, and still are, ceremoniously opened on Saint Catherine’s day (25th November). The cheese has a smell of undergrowth, moss, truffles and wood. So, if you are travelling in Italy during November, do some modern day plundering and do not miss the Formaggio di Fossa sagra (village festival) of Sogliano sul Rubicone held on the weekend of the 25th. Let your nose lead you to the picturesque high hilltop town where you can feast on wonderful pit cheese in an array of dishes, or simply on its own with some good local sangiovese red wine.

A native of Sogliano sul Rubicone proudly explaining the process to me.
The foto taken above of the pit is just next to his feet.


  1. I can't wait to go back to Rimini & next time I'll time it to be there for the opening of the pits - what fun & what a feast!

  2. St Catherine's Day - I'll be there to taste that cheese! What a fascinating process!