This time Stefano Tesi takes the stand.
In that spot there was a damn gorge, a damn chute, and a damn curve where during the winter every damned week there was a damn ice slide that dtopped the road for us, the blessed tourists, forcing us to wait for damned hours.
Then they straightened the road, building an 11 km long antiavalanche tunnel, and that damned spot, which was leapfrogged by the new road, was left with a hanger-like building where they stored the plows, and nobody thought about it at all for 30 years.
Except the mayor, those charged with road maintenance, and the nostalgic, like me. And finally, Marco Faccinelli, the director of the Latteria di Livigno.
Years ago, Mr. Faccinelli was desperately looking for a place to age a few thousand rounds of the excellent Livigno Cheese made by La Latteria, the local cooperative. La Latteria is a the result of a flash of inspiration on the part of the herdsmen of the Little Tibet that is Livigno, who thought to work and sell locally the milk and cheese that would otherwise have been forced to undertake, with little chance of success, a journey towards a distant global market.
A successful idea, considering that the cooperative works at spate, and sells 80% of the milk and cheese produced in the valley.
In short, Mr. Faccinelli, a man of few words and much vision, was looking for a place to store cheese. A tall order for a town where there aren’t any natural caves and all the buildings, including hillside farmhouses, have been transformed into residences, shops and restaurants, and where the climate (Livigno is the coldest town in Italy, with a record of -42 C, about -40 F) plays a fundamental role.
Then he had a flash: The garage where they kept the plows! A visit revealed it to be ideal; the town was willing to set a reasonable rent, constant year-round temperature and humidity, with water that drips from the mountain wall during the summers. Electricity could be provided by a generator, and for the occasional couple that parked in the lot bent on guilty pleasures they set out a trashcan and a sign inviting them to use it.
But the best was yet to come.
Because when they stored their cheese in the (semi) artificial cave, they realized that the space was so well suited to aging cheeses that it could give rise to a new product that would be distinct from the two excellent cheeses La Latteria already made, one from partially raw milk, aged 4-6 months, and Granlivigno, which is ages 12 to 24 months.
They thus introduced Livigno Grotta, a raw milk cheese. In appearance the wheels are similar to the others, 14 inches (35 cm) in diameter, 3 inches (8 cm) high, and 17 pounds (8 k)), though the color and consistency of the rind, which depending upon age varies from ash gray to reddish, differs, as does the color of the body of the cheese, which is a slightly ambery straw yellow whose intensity varies with the season the milk was collected.
The cheese is firm to the otuch, fairly dry, and quite compact, with a fine network of bubbles. On the nose it is fragrant, tasting of milk and herbs, and quite delicate and intense; it’s brilliant but not aggressive, and pleasantly aromatic.
On the palate it’s chewy, ample and pleasant, moderately firm to the bite, with strong persistent flavors that are not overbearing and distinct milky accents that tame and amplify the flavors.
The cheesemakers correctly suggest one pair it with the local whole wheat bread. The real local bread, they repeat, the kind that is flattened and firm, stands up to prolonged chewing, with spicy echoes that work perfectly with the harmonious balance of the cheese.
They also suggest it be drunk with Sfursat, a suggestion I find correct but obvious and academic. I find it to work much better with a sip of something drier and more nervous, such as some Inferno or Sassella wines, in which the sobriety of the Chiavennasca doesn’t contradict the authentic mountain character of the Cheese from Livigno.
Latteria di Livigno
Via Pemont 911
Tel. 0342 970432
Photos courtesy Stefano Amantini/Atlantide.