Formaggio di Fossa, literally pit cheese, is a wonderful oddity of the Romagna area, my native land. Regarded as a delicacy nowadays and served in the most prestigious restaurants countrywide, few know it was quite… created by mistake!
A sharp-tasting pecorino cheese that can be made entirely of sheep milk, or of a mix of sheep and cow milk, formaggio di fossa‘s most distinctive feature at the eye is the shape: upon being taken out of the pit, each “cylinder” has settled under the weight of the cheese set on top of it. Since the pits can be as deep as 10′, a lot of weight is applied to the forms! Formaggio di fossa is typically without rind, with a firm or semi-firm texture, and a pungent taste on the bitterish side.
But how did the cheese end up in the pits anyway? During the middle ages the Romagna area was under the ruling of the Church State, and the local population fought what they felt like oppression with acts of civil disobedience. The soil on which the town of Sogliano al Rubicone, the birthplace of this unique cheese, is built is very porous tufa rock. The citizens there came to building pits in the rock to preserve anything they didn’t want stolen- or taxed. That’s how they noticed, after hiding away their cheese production from the papal tax agent that the cheese would take on a very distinctive flavor. Historical documents manage to place formaggio di fossa production as early as the 1200s- that’s a long time to be trying to escape taxes!
The people of Sogliano al Rubicone managed to invent quite an extraordinary cheese, rare (as it is only produced here, with very few pits open for seasoning) and delicious out of their willingness to fight the Pope ruling in a non-violent manner. Isn’t this just… uhm, tasty?
In the Bay Area, you will find Formaggio di Fossa appear on the menu of Riva Cucina, whose chef, Massimiliano, is from Ferrara and trained in Romagna. Make sure you call ahead to check whether Massimiliano’s seasonal menu includes Formaggio di Fossa if you’d like to taste it!
Pictures courtesy of www.comune.sogliano.fc.it, official website of the city of Sogliano al Rubicone.
Filed under: Traditional Foods