With its lush meadows and green pastures, the Aosta valley offers ideal conditions for milk production. There is no wonder that the Aosta is famed for it's full-bodied milk, tasty butter, rich cream and of course the it's amazing cheeses.
Fontina, is probably the most famous Valadostan cheese, that is steeped in history and tradition. The name Fontina derives either from the word fondere, which means to melt, indicating that one of fontina's greatest attributes is that it is delicious when melted, or its name comes from Alpe Fontina, which is about 15 miles from the provincial capital Aosta, but in all honesty nobody knows for sure. One thing that s for sure is that the very mild, pale yellow Fontina is produced from the best, fresh full-cream milk, from exclusively grass fed cow's from the lush, high Aosta pastures. The full-fat fontina has a pale yellow, springy texture with a few small holes running through it, is matured for three to four months at a constant temperature of 8 - 12 centigrade. Many Aosta Fontina are matured in special storerooms built into the rocks of the mountains, where the temperature and humidity is perfectly constant. Cheeses produced in summer can be recognised by a particularly buttery consistency and aromatic taste. When Fontina is still young, local Valdaostans' like to have it as a table cheese. When it gets a little more mature, it becomes easy to melt and therefore very suitable for cooking. The concentrated proteins and high fats of fontina, which come from the full-cream milk, make it a valuable part of the mountain cuisine, which in the days of extreme poverty provided nutritious vitamins and minerals, such as essential salts such as calcium and phosphotprus, to the often hungry and malnourished Valdaostans'. In view of all these advantages, it is not suprising that people have tried again and again to copy fontina. One of the best known copies is Fontal, which was created by Danish cheese-makers after they had got to know the merits of the Aosta cheeses during World War II.
Production of the industrial version of fontina is permitted everywhere, even a long way from the Aosta Valley. As a result, the producers of genuine Aosta fontina saw the need to protect their product form such imitation. Firstly, fontina was recognised as a variety of cheese. The second step in 1955, gave fontina the legally controlled designation of DOC. Stamped on the surface of every official, and therefore quality guaranteed, fontina, is the trademark of a Matterhorn and the wording consorzio produttiri fontina (Consortium of Fontina producers).
But the Aosta valley region has other interesting cheese specialities, for example soignon, which comes from the Gressoney Valley. Soignon consists of a very fatty ricotta, which is mixed with various flavourings, such as salt, ground paprika, chilies, garlic, juniper, fennel, and caraway seeds. Soignon can be earn fresh or in a smoked version. In the past, the cheeses used to be hung in the chimney flue to dry out. As well as making them keep longer, it gave them a very special individual, smoky taste.
Toma de Gressoney, which also comes from the Gressoney valley, is well worth sampling. This half-fat cheese is made in the same way as fontina. Sometimes it even looks like fontina, and it's very easy to get them confused, as the makers of toma use the same moulds as fontina and work with the same tools. Some best way t tell them apart is the consorzio stamp on the fontina.