Gorgonzola DOP is one of those classic Italian ingredients that’s more famous than understood here in North America. Discover the history and craft that goes into this signature Italian blue cheese. Mark Cirillo, writer and editor of CucinaTO chats Gorgonzola cheese with Gaia Massai, a food expert who has previously held lectures at the Italian Institute of Culture.
Q: What exactly does the name Gorgonzola mean?
A: It refers to the little town in Lombardy, near Milan, where the cheese was invented. Cheeses as old as Gorgonzola didn’t originally have names – there was no need because they were only eaten very locally. But in the late Middle Ages, when they started to travel to the courts of noble families, people began using their place of origin to refer to them. Today, according to law in Italy, Gorgonzola DOP can only be made from the milk of cows raised in Piedmont and Lombardy.
Q: There are two kinds of Gorgonzola DOP, Dolce and Piccante. What’s the difference?
A: “Dolce” means sweet, “piccante” means spicy. They’re not exactly descriptive terms – we use them in Italian to mean fresh versus aged cheeses. Piccante cheeses are stronger in flavour because of the aging process. Here in Canada, the Dolce is more common, although you sometimes find the Piccante in specialty shops.
Q: What’s the best way to eat and pair Gorgonzola?
A: There’s a slight difference between Dolce and Piccante. Because the Dolce is softer and creamier, it’s great for spreading on bread or as a salad dressing or pasta sauce, and also goes well on pizza. I would pair it with a Barolo or Amarone. The Piccante is harder and tends to crumble. You can enjoy it on it’s own or with bread, and it’s delicious when drizzled with honey – it gives you a very nice contrast of flavours. I would go for contrast in the wine pairing, too – a Vin Santo would be perfect.
Q: Finally, why do some people say Gorgonzola is an aphrodisiac?
A: Back in Italy there’s a story of how the cheese was invented, some time around the 10th century. According to legend the cheesemaker’s assistant was milking his cow one evening when he snuck away to visit his lover. When he returned the next morning the previous night’s milk had already begun to ferment, and by adding fresh milk he accidentally created something new, a kind of blue cheese we call Gorgonzola today.