High-Altitude Cheese: Bitto from Valtellina

Thu, 09/24/2015 - 06:25
Bitto from Valtellina

Italy is a good place to be if you love formaggio – the variety and quality of the cheeses here are outstanding.

Every region produces its own unique cheeses, often requiring skill and time. One such cheese is Bitto, produced in Valtellina, a vast area extending for 200 kilometers within the northern region of Lombardy, right in the middle of the Alps.

The heart of Bitto production is in the Gerola and Albaredo valleys where the Bitto river, which gives the cheese its name, flows.

Bitto is only produced in the summer months when cows graze on the alpine meadows.Cheesemakers here work at altitudes ranging from 1,400 meters to 2,000 meters, taking the cows from the lowest station to the highest in stages. 10 to 20 percent of Bitto is made with goat’s milk, and goats are also taken up to the pastures in the summer.

The milk is often processed directly at the meadows, in ancient stone constructions dotting the mountain slopes called “calécc”.

The minimum aging time is 12 months; aging can be up to 10 years.

A Slow Food presidium was created to protect and promote Bitto cheese and the traditional practices still in place, which not only guarantee its quality and freshness, but also help preserve the Alpine environment and biodiversity. The cheesemakers who are part of the consortium use no fodder, silage or dietary supplements.

This article is part of ITALY Magazine’s "Slow Food series", where we present typical products from the different regions of Italy that make up the network of the non-profit organization’s “presidia”. As explained on the Slow Food website, “The Presidia sustain quality production at risk of extinction, protect unique regions and ecosystems, recover traditional processing methods, safeguard native breeds and local plant varieties.” We stand by this commitment and want to support small producers by making their products and hard work better known to the public.

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