Saturday, July 26, 2014

Murianengo a cheese straddling two countries

This week we're talking about Murianengo, a very rare blue cheese similar to Gorgonzola, produced in the alpine pastures of Moncenisio, near the French border, in the Turin province. This is a very rare cheese made only by 2 producers in the high Susa Valley. Every year only about 50 wheels are made so you will have to come over and try it right in its own landscape. No other cheese tastes quite like it, in fact, Murianengo reminds of a mix of Gorgonzola and Castelmagno.

Murianengo cheese

click here for a larger map of the area

Murianengo is similar to some French cheeses produced in Savoy because, as you can see from the Piedmont map (the separate part is the Moncenisio plateau), the cultural area where it is made in Piedmont borders directly with France. 

The earliest records of Murianengo date back to the 11th century and its name derives from Val Moriana in Savoy. Sometimes this cheese is also called Moncenisio because of the Moncenisio plateau where it is produced in Piedmont, however some experts believe Murianengo and Moncenisio are two distinct types even though the cheesemaking procedure is almost identical. 

Murianengo cheese
Usually whole milk is coagulated for 30-60 minutes, then the soft curd is cut into large lumps and then into smaller, hazelnut-size pieces. All gathered up in a cheesecloth, it's left to ferment for 24h in a wooden bucket. After mixing the old curd with 1/2 or 1/3 of the new one, it is placed in molds, lightly pressed and dry-salted. After 20 days, the wheels are transferred to the cellar, where they are perforated before maturing for three months to allow the moulds to develop.
The Murianengo production method is similar to that of Castelmagno but its paste is richer in fats and flavor. Its long ripening process allows the deep blue veins to form in "patches".

Murianengo facts:
Beautiful Lake Moncenisio in the summer
-it is a fat or semi-fat cheese
-it's made mainly with cow's milk, sometimes goat and sheep milk is also added
-it ripens for 4-7 months 
-it's produced in the summer
-its natural rind is wrinkly and reddish or oily and brownish
-its paste color is straw yellow and its texture is buttery in the younger variety and grainier and compact with deeper blue veins in the more mature variety
-it's a very aromatic cheese, with spicy notes.

Ravioli filled with Murianengo & pears
What to eat and drink with Murianengo?

Murianengo is best paired with a full bodied red wine, like Barbera d'Alba and served with a tangerine marmalade, or a ginger and nut marmalade or with some chestnut honey.
Naturally, rye bread and polenta go well with it too and you can also make ravioli filled with pears and murianengo:P

Lake Moncenisio in the winter
Not only Murianengo is a very rare cheese of a unique flavor and texture, but the area where it is produced is also worth a visit. This area of Piedmont is rich of historical and natural wonders and no matter the season you visit, there's always something special to do, see and eat. 
You can hike the valleys in the summer, ski in the wintry fairy tale landscape or fly back to the 11th century when you visit St. Michael's Abbey - Sacra di San Michele. Needless to tell you that the whole Susa Valley is studded of fortresses, castles and natural reserves! 

St. Michael's Abbey

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