Where is it produced?
The areas where genuine Taleggio can be produced and aged are:
in Lombardy (around Bergamo, Brescia, Como, Cremona, Lecco, Lodi, Milan, Monza-Brianza and Pavia);
in Piedmont (near Novara and Verbano-Cusio-Ossola);
in Veneto (around Treviso).
The milk used must come exclusively from dairies in specified areas which are part of a quality control system.
Production and ageing
Here is an outline of the various stages which go into producing Taleggio PDO, right up to the final stage where the cheese is aged.
The milk is stored in refrigerated cisterns once it is delivered to the cheese-making facility. Full fat cows’ milk is used to make Taleggio, either pasteurised or unpasteurised. Milk is pasteurised by heating it in order to destroy all potentially harmful pathogens and reduce the quantity of non-harmful micro-flora. The milk can then be safely kept at 4 °C for a few days.
In order to get the milk to coagulate, it is reheated to a temperature between 32-35 °C and a mix of Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus is added to acidify the milk (and ferment the lactose with lactic acid), along with a added aromas. No genetically modified micro-organisms are allowed. The base ingredient used to transform milk into cheese is rennet (which is extracted from the stomachs of milk-fed calves). Rennet coagulates the milk and separates it into two parts: the curd, which is has a consistent texture and so is easy to process, and whey, which is liquid. Taleggio is made using rennet from calves only: the use of rennet made from genetically modified micro-organisms is strictly forbidden.
The rest period between the start of the coagulation process and the moment when the curd is cut is fundamental and depends on the type of cheese being made. For harder cheeses, the curd should be cut into small pieces after 2-5 minutes, whereas for softer cheeses, the curd is cut into larger pieces after 10-15 minutes.
Cutting the curd into smaller pieces increases exposed surface area which allows more whey to drain out and results in a firmer cheese. Softer cheeses are made using chunks of curd between the size of a walnut and an orange, whereas semi-firm cheeses are made using pieces the size of a bean or pea and hard cheeses using pieces no larger than a grain of rice.
This process of cutting the curd can be carried out either by hand or using a machine.
Taleggio is left to rest for 10-25 minutes, depending on the weather and type of raw ingredients.
The curd is cut twice: the first time into large chunks, which are then left for a further 10-15 minutes. This allows the curd to expel more whey and improves the texture of the cheese. The second time round the curd is cut into pieces the size of hazelnuts.
Once this process is complete, the curd is placed evenly in specially-made moulds with sides 18-20 cm long. It is here that the whey is drained away (a yellowy liquid that comes from the milk). These moulds are placed on special tray tables with raised sides which are covered with mats made from either plastic or natural materials.
The tables are slightly angled in order to help the whey drain away.
The cooking process is one of the most important and delicate stages. The curds and whey are shaped into cheese, followed by a process of acidification when the last of the whey is drained away.
This phase, during which the cheese is turned several times, can take from a minimum of 8 hours to a maximum of 16 hours, at a temperature of 22-25 °C.
For technical reasons, during this ‘cooking’ phase the cheese is branded to prove its genuine origin. While the cheese is being turned, a brand made from food-grade plastic is placed one side of each piece of Taleggio.
Every cheese producer applies their consortium number on the lower left-hand corner of each cheese, in order to identify where each one was made.
The salting process is another fundamental stage and in fact, the salt actually causes even more whey to drain away and helps the rind to develop.
It also gives the cheese flavour (flavour spreads throughout the cheese from the surface) and it protects the external part of the cheese from harmful micro-organisms, allowing only useful ones to develop.
In artisan cheese making, the salting process is carried out ‘dry’, which means that the salt is spread over the surface and sides of the cheeses. In industrial cheese making, the cheeses are often submerged in a salt solution at around 10 °C. In this case, the cheeses stay in the solution for 8-12 hours, during which time they are turned several times.
The final phase is the ageing process which can be carried out either in the cheese-making facility, or by cheese ageing specialist companies who buy the fresh Taleggio from the cheese producers.
Taleggio is aged on wooden boards inside cells which reproduce the atmospheric conditions found in the caves where the cheese was originally aged (the temperature, humidity and typical local micro-flora).
During the ageing process the cheeses are turned and sponged with a salt water solution around every seven days. This ‘washing’ keeps the rind damp, eliminates any unwanted mould which may have formed and encourages the right kind of mould and yeasts which, in turn, cause the characteristic pink colour.
The colour of the rind is down to the development of specific moulds (their Latin names are Penicillium and Geotrichum), which do not pose any health risk.
It is not permitted to treat the rind in any way.
Taleggio rind is 100% edible.
The length of the ageing process and the conditions in which the cheese is aged (temperature and humidity) depends on the type of cheese. Taleggio is aged for a minimum of 35 days.
Taleggio is aged in specially created chambers where the temperature is kept at 2-6 °C and the humidity level is 85-90%.
Centripetal ripening (from the outside towards the centre) causes the growth of certain moulds on the rind. The enzymes produced by the micro-flora on the rind help the body of the cheese to ripen and make it soft, flavoursome and easier to digest.
Taleggio PDO cheese is certified by the following food and drink certification company: Certiprodop S.r.l. – legal headquarters: Via del Macello, 26 – 26013 Crema (Cremona) – offices: Via Roggia Vignola, 9 – 24047 Treviglio (Bergamo).