879 A.D., Lombardy, Italy – A young gentleman preoccupied with his love for a woman left cheese curds in a cave overnight in order to chase her. The next morning, he discovered his blunder. To hide his mistake, he mixed morning curds with the ones he had left behind the night before. After a few weeks he noticed blue striations running through the cheese. It tasted superb and hence, as legend would have it, Gorgonzola came into being.
Where the Cows Graze
Lombardy, Italy, where Gorgonzola is made, is a very fertile area where cows graze in Alpine areas in the summer and then make an autumn trek south to spend the winter in a warmer climate. These “tired” cows are milked during the long spring and autumn treks to and from seasonal pastures. The cattle produce extra-tasty milk because of the physical exertion. Cheesemakers long ago became aware that the exercise helped to create a measurably higher content of butterfat. And indeed, Gorgonzola has a fat content of 48% because of this process called mammolactation.
Gorgonzola is thought to be one of the oldest blue cheeses in the world. It started to be transported in the Middle Ages to courts of noble families. People gave it the name of its town’s origins, although it is debatable which town it actually started in. Some say it was created in Pasturo nella Valsassina where there are natural caves.
It would be aged for at least a year before transport. Over the centuries, Gorgonzola has become in such high demand that the aging process needed to be sped up. Now it is pierced with holes to allow the bacteria Penicillium glaucum to cause blue veining to appear in 4 to 6 months for Gorgonzola Mountain and 3 months for the sweeter, creamier Gorgonzola Dolce.
Excellent brands in the U.S. include Mauri, Galbani, Klin or Lodigiani according to cheese connoisseur Steven Jenkins. It pairs well with fruits and full-bodied red wines or sweet white dessert wines such as Marsala. It is great crumbled over salads or mixed into vinaigrettes. It is also stuffed into chicken or veal, blended into pasta sauces, and incorporated into pastries, pizza, and desserts with pears and figs.
Jenkins, Steven, Cheese Primer, Workman Publishing Co., Inc., © 1996, pp. 206-10