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The cheeses of South Tyrol

The cheeses of South Tyrol

by Great Italian Chefs 09 April 2018

For a remote mountainous region, South Tyrol produces an incredible amount of cheeses which make the most of the area’s beautiful alpine milk. If you’re visiting the area or looking for something distinctly north Italian from the cheese counter, these are the varieties to watch out for.

As any cheesemaker will tell you, the secret to producing fantastic cheese is in the milk. Luckily, for the producers of South Tyrol, they have access to some of the finest milk in all of Italy. Sourced from small mountain farms – often with small herds of just fifteen cows each – the cattle are allowed to roam free, grazing on the indigenous herbs and plants that make South Tyrolean mountain meadows such serene, tranquil places to visit. Living at such high altitudes (between 800 and 2,000 meters above sea level) also seems to give the milk an unmatched purity, which the farmers capture by making sure all their milk is processed within twenty-four hours.

Perhaps that’s why South Tyrol is home to over 200 different types of cheese. Often made by small producers and available only at certain times of the year, they are always in high demand throughout the region (and beyond), making South Tyrol a must-visit destination for the cheese-obsessed. Any cheese made in the area is going to be good, but if you’ve only got time (and room in your stomach!) to taste a few, these are the most iconic.

Stilfser

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The first South Tyrolean cheese to gain PDO status from the EU, Stilfser (also known as Stelvio in Italian) is hundreds of years old, although it has only gained popularity outside the region in recent years. A semi-soft and brined cow’s milk cheese with a somewhat elastic texture, it is aged for just sixty days until it develops its strong, spicy flavour.

Luis Trenker

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Encased in a striking black rind, this mature cheese is very complex with flavours ranging from honey and fruits to caramel and chocolate. Studded with naturally occurring salt crystals, it has a closed but creamy texture that almost melts on the tongue. The taste lingers and develops over time, making this a must-try cheese if you’re ever in the region.

Graukäse

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An unusual variety of skimmed cow’s milk cheese, Graukäse (which translates to grey cheese) has a unique appearance thanks to the eye-catching grey mould which grows on the rind (which in this case has been cut away). It is a symbol of the local cucina povera and is an important ingredient in many local dishes such as dumplings. The cheese itself is very low in fat – around 0.5% – and has quite a sour, lactic flavour with a strong aroma. The cheese is matured for ten weeks before eating, and rather than being shaped into a wheel or truckle is simply moulded into a rustic ‘loaf’.

Vinschger

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This Alpine semi-hard cheese is firm with pea-sized holes throughout and offers one of the purest tastes of South Tyrol. Made using milk from the cows of the Vinschgau Valley, it has a fruity flavour, smooth consistency and a slightly spicy finish.

Toblacher Stangenkäse

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Mildly sour with irregular small holes and a semi-firm texture, Toblacher cheese comes in a 'rod' (or bar) and is beloved for its subtle yet moreish flavour. It’s particularly well-suited to being flash-fried as it will not fall apart, but can also be enjoyed as is.

Alta Badia

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A hard cow’s cheese with a completely closed and firm texture, Alta Badia is aged for around 180 days before it is ready. The classic nutty, earthy flavours associated with mountain cheeses are particularly pronounced – think of it as a slightly milkier Gruyere with a more complex flavour that develops on the palate.

Gran Capra

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A hard goat’s cheese with a slightly crumbly and grainy texture, Gran Capra is sweet with an almost floral aroma. The flavour of the mountain meadows and air comes through in the milk, resulting in a balanced flavour which will delight anyone who’s a fan of goat’s cheese. Ripened for nine months, it takes 120 litres of milk to produce just one wheel of this cheese.

Pustertaler

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Also known as Pusteria, Pustertaler is produced from milk sourced from the mountain farms of the Pustertal Valley. This mountain cheese has a soft, smooth, elegant consistency with a slightly open texture, so expect a few holes. Aged for around ninety days, its aromatic taste allows the flavour of the milk to shine through.

Lagrein

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A washed-rind cheese that’s made with pasteurised local milk, this may not be the most famous of South Tyrol’s cheeses – but it is one of the most interesting. The cheese is washed in local Lagrein red wine which is infused with herbs, spices and garlic. It has a creamy consistency, a few holes or cracks in the paste and a nutty flavour that’s complemented by the notes of spiced wine. Naturally, it pairs perfectly with a glass of Lagrein.

Hay Milk Mozzarella

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Mozzarella is made all over Italy but in South Tyrol the balls are made with 100% South Tyrolean cow’s milk, which has a subtly unique flavour thanks to the cattle's hay-heavy diet. Its mild, milky flavour means the cheese can be enjoyed either raw as part of a cheeseboard or melted as part of a dish, and it is one of the finest examples of a world-famous cheese in existence.

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