Gorgonzola is one of the oldest blue cheeses in the world. It was developed about the same time as Roquefort in France. Its ancestor dates back to the Roman age when, in the fall, the cows were herded down from the Alps to the valleys of the Po River. They arrived in the fields near the city of Gorgonzola from the valleys of Bergamo to eat the fresh grass.
It is said that cheese was created to conserve the milk from the overwhelming number of cows in the area. However, according to a legend that dates back to the XV century, it is the product of a romantic escapade of a young cowherder. Distracted by his lady-love, young Romeo abandoned his cheese curds, which drained overnight. The next morning, hoping to hide his mistake, he mixed them with new curd creating a cheese that remains soft even when aged. The cheese was punctured with sticks to allow it to dry out. The air channels created space for mold to grow, giving it its signature look and flavor.
Today, Gorgonzola is made using whole cow’s milk, starter bacteria, and spores of the mold Penicillium glaucum. During the aging process metal rods are quickly inserted and removed creating the air channels that allow the mold spores to grow, which causes the characteristic veining. Gorgonzola Dolce, which is sweet, milky, and creamy with hints of spice, is aged about three months. Gorgonzola Piccante, which is aged about a year, is more piquant, firm, and crumbly.
The Po River flows eastward through the regions of Piedmont and Lombardy. Today both regions make Gongonzola and Taleggio, another delicious cheese. Lombardy is also home to Mascarpone, Provolone, and Grana Padano. Gorgonzola produced in designated provinces of these two regions has DOP status; Denominazione di Origine Protetta is a European Union mark that guarantees the product and all phases of production are carried out in a strictly defined geographical area according to certain standards of reliability, quality and tradition.
Gorgonzola is eaten in many ways. Dolce can simply be spread on bread or paired with figs, pears, or walnuts or almonds. Piccante can be paired with honey on a cheese platter. Either can be served with pasta, usually short pasta like penne or rigatoni, and as an ingredient in pizza ai quattro formaggi.It can be melted into a risotto in the final stage of cooking or served with polenta.