Stracchino di Gorgonzola was originally only produced in autumn and winter, when the cows were tired from their journey home from mountain pastures. They would produce less milk at these times of year, so curdled milk from the previous day would be added to the fresh milk.
Long shelf life with vacuum technology
Over time, the cheese attracted an ever-growing number of admirers from all over the world, so that it is now not only manufactured in Gorgonzola but in all of Lombardy and in neighbouring Piedmont. To ensure quality and freshness even on long transport routes, the delicacy is packaged in a protective atmosphere. This means the ambient air is removed using a vacuum pump or a centralized vacuum system, and replaced with protective gas. This protective gas is mainly made up of elements that occur naturally in the air, such as nitrogen and carbon dioxide. Removing the oxygen stops the multiplication of aerobic bacteria, or slows it down considerably. In this way, the airtight packaging of the cheese allows a long shelf life without affecting quality and taste.
Victory march with a horse and cart
Gorgonzola's victory march started over 80 years ago. In 1935, in a small Piedmont village called Mezzomerico, in the hills by Novara, farmer Natale Leonardi was considering better ways to sell his handmade cheese. His business idea was simple but brilliant. While other farmers competed with each other by supplying their Gorgonzola to nearby local markets, "Grandpa Natale" hit upon a clever strategy: several times a week, he strapped a cart to his horse and travelled north. His destination was Lake Maggiore, where rich, aristocratic, and even monarchical heads lodged in the posh hotels of Stresa and Arona. In those hotels Natale Leonardi's Gorgonzola quickly came to epitomize Italian delicacy, and anyone wishing to be considered part of distinguished society at the time enjoyed the Gorgonzola from Mezzomerico.
Three generations of Gorgonzola
Grandpa Natale founded the company Igor, the largest producer of Gorgonzola today, which has its headquarters in Cameri, near Novara. Igor has since been taken over by the third generation of Leonardis and offers many different types of Gorgonzola. All Igor products carry the PDO seal. This European certificate stands for "Protected Designation of Origin" and guarantees that a product is manufactured according to a traditional recipe within a certain geographic area in accordance with strict manufacturing regulations. Only producers within a clearly defined region of Lombardy and Piedmont are permitted to describe their blue cheese as Gorgonzola. The production methods and ingredients of the soft cheese have not changed over the years. Nevertheless, through its drive to innovate, Igor has successfully developed technologies that allow it to produce two million blocks of Gorgonzola every year and achieve a global market share of 45 percent. This year, Igor will expand its production site from 35,000 square metres to 50,000 square metres as demand continues to increase worldwide – primarily in Asian countries, far beyond the reach of Grandpa Natale's horse and cart.
All cheese specialities from Igor are packaged using centralized vacuum systems from Busch, giving them a long shelf life with a protective atmosphere.
The production of Gorgonzola
After the milk is delivered to the Igor dairy, it is pasteurized for the production of Gorgonzola. Lactic acid bacteria, blue mould cultures and rennet are then added. The bacteria cause the milk to curdle by converting the lactose into lactic acid; the acidic milk coagulates as a result of the casein – milk protein – precipitating. This process is intensified by the rennet – the enzyme mixture derived from calf stomachs breaks down the casein even further.
Distinctive blue veins
The solid curd resulting from the curdling process is separated from the liquid whey using a device called a "cheese harp". It is subsequently placed in stainless steel moulds and stored in an ageing chamber at 21 degrees Celsius. The cheese rind is rinsed with saltwater multiple times. After several days, the wheels of cheese are moved to a second chamber, at a temperature of three to five degrees Celsius. There, stainless steel needles pierce the wheels, exposing the interior of the cheese to oxygen. The aeration stimulates growth of the penicillium roqueforti mould cultures that were added at the start of the process. This is how Gorgonzola gets its distinctive greenish blue veins of mould and its intense flavour.
Around the world after 80 days
Following an ageing period, the cheese is ready: mild Gorgonzola requires about 50 days, while the more intense Gorgonzola spends 80 days ripening. Then it is sliced and packaged. A protective atmosphere made up of inert gases ensures that the ageing process does not continue. Therefore, the Gorgonzola reaches cheese lovers all over the world at the same stage of the ageing process that it was at when it left Piedmont.