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Say Cheese: Alta Langa, Va Bene

The other night my husband and I stopped in for a glass of wine at Grape + Bean in Old Town. The real treat turned out to be the two cheeses we sampled from Italy’s Piedmont region.

Some Alta Langa cheeses I like, from front to back: Rocchetta, La Tur, Robiola Bosina and Rosso di Langa. (Domenica Marchetti)

Cappelletta and Rosso di Langa are both produced by Caseificio dell’ Alta Langa, which also makes some of my other all-time favorite cheeses, including Robiola Bosina, Rocchetta and La Tur.

Cappelletta (“little chapel”) is a tiny tower of pure white creaminess. Like a number of the company’s cheeses, it is made from a combination of cow's, goat's and sheep’s milks. It is a fresh, spreadable cheese with a rich, sweet, clean flavor that holds faintest hint of mushroom.

By contrast, Rosso di Langa is a semisoft, washed-rind cow's- and sheep’s-milk cheese that is aged for two weeks. Its edible orange exterior rind is fairly mild as far as washed rinds go, and the interior of the cheese is pale ivory, slightly sticky and supple. The cheese has a really satisfying, meaty flavor. But is not overly pungent and not at all offputting.

It occurred to me after I tasted the cheeses that I wanted to know more about the company, so I picked up the phone and called.

Chief executive officer Nicola Merlo, whose family owns the business, told me that in 1992 they decided to purchase a tiny cheese producer whose only product was a cow's- and sheep’s-milk toma that was typical of the region.

The Merlo family still produces that toma according to the traditional recipe. But over the years it has added another 22 cheeses to its repertoire — mostly based on cheeses that were once made by local farmers in their own homes using whatever milk they had on hand. That is why, Merlo said, so many of the company’s cheeses are made from a mix of milks.

To me, there is something irresistible about these rich cheeses, whether it is the softly crimped rinds of La Tur and Rocchetta and their aromatic insides (La Tur’s is light, almost fluffy, while Rocchetta’s is dense and smooth), or the softly bulging pillow of robiola, with its mild mushroomy flavor.

The Rosso di Langa is one of the company’s newest varieties. It began as a washed-rind version of the Robiola Bosina and indeed it is the same squat, square shape. Early experiments that used a bacterial solution to wash the rind turned out a cheese that had a lot of character but suffered from an overly pungent aroma, Merlo said. In order to tone it down, the cheese is now washed with a mix of water and annatto, a natural plant coloring. Thus it retains the orange color of a washed-rind cheese but is a lot friendlier to your average cheese enthusiast.

While I have yet to see it in stores, I am keeping my eyes open for the Blu di Langa, which was a finalist in the most recent Fancy Foods Show competition in New York this past June (Rocchetta was selected Best Cheese at the 2006 competition). Blu di Langa is also made from cow's, goat's and sheep’s milks, but it is enriched with cream and aged for two months.

Let’s hope Blu makes its way to the shelves of local cheese shops soon. In the meantime, Robiola Bosina, La Tur, Rocchetta and Rosso di Langa are all locally available. I’ve found them at Whole Foods, Balducci’s and other area cheese shops.

Merlo recommends storing them in the refrigerator, but removing them about two hours before you plan to serve them, so they will be at their ooziest. He says the best way to enjoy the Alta Langa cheeses is plain, with warm bread, and maybe a spoonful of fruit mostarda or a compote of red pepper or onion.

-- Domenica Marchetti

Quick update from the World Cheese Awards: California’s Cypress Grove Chevre Inc. was the big winner among American cheeses at this year’s competition, which took place earlier this month. Its fresh goat cheese won gold in the soft goat’s-milk (plain) category. Cypress Grove’s popular Humboldt Fog, with its line of ash running through the center, claimed gold in the soft goat’s-milk cheese (plain, mold-ripened) category, sharing the prize with a Camembert from Haystack Mountain Goat Dairy of Longmont, Colo.

For a list of winners, click here.

By The Food Section  |  October 13, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Say Cheese  | Tags: Domenica Marchetti, Italy, Say Cheese  
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Thank you for writing about cheese. I am consistently disappointed with The Checkup not pointing out that a healthy lifestyle can and should include the delicious, real stuff.

Posted by: MzFitz | October 13, 2009 3:52 PM | Report abuse

I echo the comment of MzFitz. I love the comments on cheese. And we're dedicated fans of anything by Cypress Grove.


Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | October 13, 2009 11:48 PM | Report abuse

Thank you. I agree that cheese can be part of a healthy diet. Just don't eat gobs and gobs of it (not all the time anyway!)

Posted by: Domenica1 | October 15, 2009 9:55 AM | Report abuse

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