By Enza Bettelli

Provolone Valpadana DOP
The area of production of this typical cheese is spread over quite a  vast territory, over 4 regions in the Po valley, i.e. Piacenza in Emilia  Romagna, Trento in Trentino Alto Adige - in fact, provolone in the Venetian  region is made in the provinces of Verona, Vicenza, Padua and Rovigo - and,  naturally, in Lombardy in the provinces of Bergamo, Brescia, Cremona, Lodi and  Mantua. The territory is fascinating, including very beautiful landscapes  together with palaces and museums which are real architectural gems, in the  midst of natural parks and industrial areas of the Po Valley. There is a  natural abundance of green spaces and water courses which have been  supplemented by a network of man-made canals; these have enhanced cattle  breeding and milk and cheese production in a territory which was once  unhealthy but has been salvaged over the centuries by a lot of reclamation  work, the first of which go back to the Etruscan era.

Provolone Valpadana obtained recognition of Denominazione di Origine  Protetta DOP (protected denomination of origin) in 1996; the consortium  for protection was formed in 1975 and is based in Cremona; at present, it  consists of about a dozen producers. At the end of November 2010 a new  regulation for production was brought out; it prohibits the food preservative  E239. A further production guarantee is traceability through the study of the  DNA of each piece which means a profile for each cheese producer can be defined. All pieces of provolone  approved by the consortium receive a three coloured rosette. Although the Po  Valley Provolone is sold to  consumers at various weights, each packaging  must have a DOP label, an identification mark and an authorization number from  the Consortium for the Protection of Provolone Valpadana.

Provolone Valpadana is a semi-hard cheese of a stringy consistency made  from whole cow milk with natural acidity from fermentation, in more different  sizes and forms (sausage, melon/pear, cone shaped, pear shaped) than any other  type of cheese; it is shaped by hand or in moulds. There are two types of  Provolone Valpadana: mild and strong. The mild one is made with calf  rennet, is matured for 2 to 3 months at the most and may be pasteurized. The  strong one is made with kid and/or lamb rennet and is matured from at least 3  months up to more than a year and may be treated with heat. Sometimes the  forms are covered by a protective substance, (for example paraffin). In the  absence of a covering layer the crust is smooth, thin, light yellow in colour,  sometimes yellow-brownish.

The  inside is generally straw yellow, compact, and may have a few small holes and  a light "peeling" inside the cheese with short maturing, but with more evident  peeling in more mature cheeses.
Flavour  is delicate in cheeses matured up to three months; from marked to hot in  pieces which have matured for a longer period or which have been made with  either kid or lamb rennet or both.

We have  to consider 4 regions, even though they are all part of the same immense valley. Great use is made of risotto, prepared with various recipes, polenta (made with corn or buckwheat), filled and fresh pasta. In the Veneto region  you will find a lot of fish, whereas meat - pork as well as beef - is present  in the whole Po Valley and is used for boiled, stewed  and roast  recipes and for the most typical dishes such as Milanese cutlet or marrowbone. There is also a tradition to use less precious parts of beef such as offal; in  fact tripe is popular in the gastronomy of this vast territory, made savoury  with vegetables and pulses, in a savoury soup.

(English translation by Gudrun Dalla Via)

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