Italian cheese etiquette wasn’t something practiced when I was growing up with a Saturday night “special” Spag Bol, decorated with hideous non-melt Buitoni sprinkles. Those ill-fragranced tubs still today, smell and resemble finely crystalised nude pop socks worn by a hard-working Nonna throughout the week, how do they manage to call it cheese? An invite from Italy Traveller to learn the art of Italian cheese tasting at Vitis Vinifera (latin for grapevine) which sits adjacent from wine lovers’ Chiantishire and in the midst of southern Tuscany’s white truffle land, was of course an irresistible, and delicious way to cure Anglo crudeness.
Vitis Vinifera’s shop and approachable cantina sits coolly hollowed out from local rock in Montisi, which is a small picture-perfect hilltop southern Tuscan town of the kind that you always dream that one day you’ll visit. Just 45 minutes by car from Siena it makes a stunning road trip taking in the area’s famous rolling lunar style clay hills, the Crete Senesi. As you trot round the twelfth century medieval pastel loop that makes up the town, you feel you are on some sumptuous rustic Hollywood set as its colours, light and oodles of charm play with your imagination. But this is real life and home to many, including one glamorous off-kilter Signora who’d provide a perfect town eccentric character for any David Lynch film, her ground floor home to a pigmy pot-bellied pig and masses of kittens. It’s a town that gastronomically celebrates the most notable Italian harvests and has a strong arts tradition; despite the small size of the town it has its own mini theatre and is culturally awake to have their own 2 day-festival film festival.
Top 50 Must Taste List
If you are in this area of southern Tuscany, picnicing or perhaps renting an apartment or cottage at Countessa Piccolomini’s Borgo Lucignanello Bandini, Vitis Vinifera can arrange a takeout of some scrumptious cheeses, tailored to your own palette and paired with appropriate wines. Alternatively have a private wine and cheese tasting which I cannot recommend highly enough. On everyone’s Top 50 Must Taste List should be the tasting of a sweet and heady Gorgonzola cheese, like that by Biraghi, incredible. Cheese tasting is available for groups of 4+ or those looking for things to do on an extended family holiday in Tuscany. Co-owner Antonella Piredda is not just an officially recognised ONAF Cheese Taster (Official Italian Cheese Board) but a guide to the region too and speaks great English for those that require. Here are our some of her tips.
7 Tips to Eating Italian Cheeses
- REMOVE your cheeses from the fridge to warm up at room temperature for a minimum of 15 minutes always before serving. Like red wine they need a bit of time for flavours to wake-up and expand.
- RESERVE the rind on hard cheeses for soups, but in Italy you won’t be damned by cutting off the bloom off a semi-soft cheese, it is preferable for health reasons as you do not know what that cheese has been washed in as part of its making or where it has been stored.
- PRESS and gently squeeze your cheese. Cheese is tactile, made-for-fingertips which in turn foster anticipation and thoughts on that glorious cheese you’ll soon be eating.
- BREAK your piece of cheese in half. A cheese-maker’s pride is the centre of the wheel of cheese away from the dry and salty exterior, if you’re not sure which end that is, breaking it will help ensure you are somewhere close.
- SNIFF as soon as you break your cheese, or before you put your spoon to your mouth if eating a runny not strictly cheese variant like Ricotta. It dramatically reveals such a different taste and underlying flavour to your cheese.
- GORGONZOLA should be eaten with red wine to cleanse the palate or try it with Passito, Italy’s dessert wine from grapes that have been partially dried, it’s mind-blowing!
- VEGETARIAN ITALIAN CHEESES do exist even Tuscan Pecorinos. Tasty vegetarian rennet is being made from algae and cardoons
We stayed at Contessa Piccolomini’s self-catering apartments in the nearby Borgo Lucignanello Bandini