Alta Langa typical products: Murazzano PDO cheese

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In protected designation of origin cheeses, the Murazzano PDO is one of the super-niche cheeses.

Murazzano PDO is a fat cheese, fresh or short seasoning, soft paste. A cheese for true connoisseurs.

In one of the smallest Italian areas of origin, the Alta Langa, in the province of Cuneo, this cheese is born with sheep’s milk or mixed sheep-cow. It can be consumed after about ten days or mature over two months. The fresh type is definitely interesting. Depending on the seasoning, it has different aromas. It is a Slow Food Presidium.

Cited by Pliny the Elder during the Roman Empire, of Celtic and peasant tradition, this cheese belongs to the Robiole family. It was traditionally prepared by the women who looked after the entire supply chain, from the breeding of sheep to cheese making.

In protected designation of origin cheeses, the Murazzano PDO is one of the super-niche cheeses.

To date, around 10,000 forms are produced in total, a quantity equal to the volume of a plain dairy: reduced numbers, while the demand is increasing.

The pieces are small, weighing about 300 grams. They have no rind, they can be tasted fresh and are produced with the milk of a special sheep: the Langhe sheep, recognizable by its curved, hairless muzzle and white fleece.

The advantage of Murazzano PDO is that unlike other sheep’s milk cheeses, which go into the pecorino category, it does not take on spicy flavors but remains soft and “sweet”.

There are about fifty municipalities in which Murazzano PDO can be produced and they are part of the Alta Langa area of ​​the province of Cuneo, that high-hill area of ​​Piedmont that develops to the right of the Tanaro river and borders with Liguria.

These are woodlands sometimes uncultivated, steep, difficult to cultivate. The Langa sheep was part of the economy of peasant families. Only the richest could have cattle that were expensive to maintain, as they required grass and hay, not cultivable at these heights.

The Murazzano PDO therefore derives from a pure peasant tradition

The sheep were followed by the women and the elderly. They burned what was available, and being dairy breeds they gave the indispensable to make some cheeses that were sold by women to the farmers’ markets.

Murazzano gave the name to the cheese precisely because it is home to one of the most important markets for the sale of this product.

In the local dialect this cheese is also called Tuma del Giuanin (Giovannino), with reference to the name of the shepherd boy of Murazzano who defeated the devil with a stratagem. Giuanin had been instructed by her mother to guard the tume kept in the stable. A crow (who was actually the devil), however, had taken advantage of his distraction and stole a tuma. The boy had chased the bird but to no avail, reaching the village castle.

In this place of spells and witchcraft, according to the beliefs of the people, Giuanin saw a hut: entered he found a table set and being so hungry he had eaten everything that was on the table. However, the table belonged to the devil and the latter, appearing to the boy, demanded his soul and wanted to take him with him to hell. Seen lost, the young man with the excuse of being thirsty had asked to drink from the well nearby, but instead of drinking he had managed to push the devil into the well.

In order to be extracted from the well, the latter renounced the soul of Giuanin and brought up the toma that the crow had stolen. The devil, however, was so greedy for that cheese that he ate a nice slice before returning it to Giuanin, and in the end he also gave money to the boy. For this reason, the Tuma di Murazzano brand bears the image of a form of cheese that is missing a slice, precisely the slice of the devil.

In reality, as we said, the origin of Murazzano must be found in the poor economy of peasant families.

With the obtaining of the Denomination of Origin in 1982 which was followed by the PDO in 1996 and the creation of a Protection Consortium, an attempt was made to expand the quantities.

Unfortunately, the bureaucracy has stopped it from growing: the farmers do not want to devote themselves to too many files and so many have abandoned the PDO, preferring to sell under the name of sheep’s toma or even sheep’s robiola.

The original procedure dictates that raw sheep’s milk or a mixture of two milking is curdled with calf rennet. The curd, rennet, is subject to two breaks, the first of coarse dimensions, the second to the size of a walnut. The mass is extracted and placed in special small cylindrical moulds for shaping and purging the whey. . Dry salting on both sides and subsequent washing and drying follow.

 Murazzano can also be sold after 3-4 days but according to connoisseurs it should be savoured at least after a week, when the surface begins to take on a yellowish colour. In the first days the forms are washed with hot water.

Traditionally, cheese can be stored in mechanically sealed glass jars.

In the absence of air it develops intense aromas and the taste becomes spicy, remaining creamy.

Excellent alone with bread, or mixed with salads or boiled vegetables. It can be proposed as an appetizer, perhaps seasoned with oil and pepper.

It is used for the Timballo di Murazzano and prefers Langhe wines, such as Dolcetto and Barbera d’Alba.

It is mainly a sheep’s milk cheese. The cow’s milk in the boiler cannot exceed 40% of the total. The sheep-only version exists and is specified on the label, as well as raw milk processing.

It should be noted that the Langa sheep have only one small per year, therefore they are not forced to reproduce, which combined with the slightly man-made environment and the simplicity and naturalness of the processing, leads the Murazzano to increase the list of its admirers.

This Langhe sheep, from which milk is used, is no longer an endangered breed, thanks to the growing production of this cheese. With the name of Langhe Sheep Tuma it is a Slow Food Presidium.

A different number was chosen to “recover the historical version, obtained exclusively with raw milk from the Langhe sheep, with the addition of a maximum percentage of 5% of goat’s milk.

A few months ago, with a new statute, the Consortium for the protection of Murazzano PDO cheese in Bossolasco was reborn.

The new president at the head of four producers is the breeder of Paroldo Claudio Adami who, with the principles born in 1982, will continue to promote the product and enhance the Langhe breed sheep, which is increasingly rare (today 2,000 heads compared to 40 thousand spread in the Sixties).

As he  says:

“The wolf contributes to the extinction, not even fences and defence dogs of the flocks can contain the attacks. In recent months the wolves have torn 50 sheep to me, to compensate the damage the leaders should be replaced within 15 days. The small companies left are disarmed between bureaucracy and controls. Fortunately, the technicians of the Mountain Union give us a hand ».

And between the Mountain Union and the European Union, it is perhaps possible to survive: the European Union’s incentives to protect native breeds could involve the new generations of farms to increase their production.

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