Cheese lovers may want to travel to Italy’s Sogliano al Rubicone in November.

This little town in the Romagna region is famously known for the historical river Rubicon, which Emperor Julius Caesar crossed as he uttered, “Alea iacta est” (“The die is cast”). But it is also known for the traditional formaggio di fossa, a cheese that is buried at the end of August in underground pits (fossa) and resurrected in late November.

The ‘resurrection’

The technique of the infossatura (the burying) dates back to the 15th century, when Romagna residents used to hide food in secret pits to protect it from Aragonese troops plundering the country. Formaggio di fossa can be made with sheep’s milk (which has an aromatic taste and a piquant flavour), cow’s milk (which is delicate, slightly sour and salty, with a bitter aftertaste) or misto, from both milks (well-balanced taste with bittery hints).

The cheese is wrapped in a cloth bag and stacked right up to the mouth of the pit, then covered with more canvas to prevent transpiration. Typically, a pit measures almost 3m high, including the neck, with a base of almost 2m in circumference. The pit is prepared by burning straw, which removes moisture and damp air, and also reduces bacteria, which may be harmful to fermentation. After the cheese is placed in the pit, a wooden lid is placed over the opening. It is sealed with plaster or chalk, and then covered with stones and sand.

Cheese is buried in a pit in Italy’s Sogliano al Rubicone. Credit: Photo Courtesy of Comune di Sogliano

Laying the cheese in the pit in Italy’s Sogliano al Rubicone. Photo: Comune di Sogliano

Once the cheese has matured, about three months later, the bags of cheese are taken out.

The sfossatura (the unearthing) occurs on Nov 25, the day dedicated to Saint Caterina. Sogliano and the nearby town of Talamello celebrate the event with the annual Festival of Fossa Cheese, a joyous day during which you can visit area farms and enjoy the cheese market.

The process of fermentation gives the cheese a particular flavour, as well as a reduction of whey and fat. It has an uneven shape, a hard or semihard and easily friable consistency, and a colour that spans from white to amber. The aroma is strong, with hints of sulphur, mould and truffles, and a pungent taste on the bitterish side. Fossa cheese has been granted DOP status (Denominazione di Origine Protetta), the Italian equivalent of protected designation of origin. – Reuters/Zester Daily/Cesare Zucca