This cheese takes its name from the Friuli plateau in the Julian Alps at 1500 metres above sea level and well known for centuries for the quality of its pastures. Its origins date back to 1200, when the Benedictine friars, observing the work of the herdsmen in the chalets at high altitudes, perfected the techniques of cheese making in their convent in Moggio Udinese. The oldest mention of “Montasio cheese” dates back to 1775 in a list of custom rates of the city of San Daniele, in which the price of Montasio was well above the average of the other cheeses. As the years passed, production spread all over the Carnia area and since 1996, when it was certified DOP, it has been exclusive to the region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, the provinces of Belluno and Treviso and part of the provinces of Padua and Venice.
The transformation of milk into the cheese starts with the collection of cow’s milk from two milkings, to which are added milk enzymes and calf rennet in liquid or powder form. Once, only raw milk was used to keep the microbial and enzymatic pool intact, today a mild heating treatment is carried out which nonetheless guarantees the natural and traditional evolution of the transformation procedure. Coagulation takes about 25 minutes and gives rise to a curd which is then broken down into grains the size of a grain of rice and cooked at 46° C. The mass is placed in moulds which reproduce the mark of origin and the date of production, pressed for 12-24 hours to foster the rapid drainage of whey and the cohesion between the granules. Montasio PDO can be salted dry or with a mixed system where it is put into a brine bath for 12-18 hours followed by a dry treatment. Ageing is for a period of a minimum of 60 days and to be put on sale, Montrasio DOP must have a maximum humidity of 36%, whilst the minimum value of fat in the dry substance must be 40%.
Fresh Montasio PDO (from 60 days to 5 months of ageing) has an elastic and even structure, a pleasant smell and is delicate and harmonious in flavour. In “mezzano” Montasio DOP (aged from 5 to 12 months), the structure becomes crumblier and the smell is stronger, whilst in the very old type (aged for more than 12 months), the flavour becomes pleasantly sharp.
It can be used grated or as a table cheese, and is an excellent accompaniment to maize polenta or dishes with fine meats.