The Varzese Breed: Not Only Cheese
The cows of the Varzese breed used to represent a tireless workforce, but the locals have always appreciated their milk and their meat as well, which are used for the production of cheeses and luncheon meats respectively.
History and morphology of the Varzese breed
The Varzese-Ottonese-Tortonese cows are the breed that supplies most of the milk used in cheese-making in the Northern Apennines. Originally found in the area between Lombardy, Emilia-Romagna, Tuscany, Liguria and Piedmont, the Varzese belongs to the group of the Italo-Iberian cattle breeds. A Varzese cow can be recognised by the small size and its golden-blonde coat. In the late 1950s, there were an estimated 20-25,000 head of the Varzese cattle. By the end of the Seventies, the breed had become endangered. Nowadays, the associations of farmers, the Lombard government and the Universities of Milan and Turin have joined forces in projects aimed at safeguarding and promoting the Varzese breed in the cheese and meat local supply chains.
The cheeses and the meats of the Varzese breed
The Varzese cow’s milk is characterised by an intense aroma and a high content in protein, fat and lactose. Molana, Nisso and Montebore are the names of some of the cheeses that utilise the milk of the Varzese cow. The former two were appointed a PAT (Typical Agricultural Foodstuff) designation. Another point that should not be overlooked is the high quality of the meat, used for fillet – which is air-dried and salted into the so-called bresaola – entrecôte, roast beef and other cuts.
Molana is a soft cheese, traditionally manufactured in Brallo di Pregola, in the province of Pavia. Its taste is mild and delicate. It can be enjoyed either fresh or shortly-aged, paired with an Oltrepò Pavese Barbera DOC.
Nisso di Menconico cheese
Nisso is produced in the eponymous town of Menconico, in the province of Pavia. The original recipe involved the introduction of live cheese maggots, resulting in an extremely sharp taste. Nowadays, this practice is strictly prohibited by public health standards. However, Nisso di Menconico still retains a distinctive flavour, which can be counterbalanced with a Oltrepò Pavese Barbera Riserva DOC.
Montebore is named after a hamlet of Dernice, in the province of Alessandria, Piedmont. Its shape resembles a wedding cake, obtained by piling 3-5 wheels of decreasing diameter. The production of Montebore had ceased by the end of the twentieth century, but it was successfully reprise in 1999. Montebore can be paired with Timorasso.
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