Vittorio Beltrami and the wonderful tale of pit-aged cheese

Vittorio is a well-known character in his parts. He lives in the town of Cartoceto, where his business is located and where his production activities are based; we speak in the plural because these include the production of olive oil, different types of cheese and preserves. Naturally, the whole family is involved in these activities. It was a strong passion and stick-to-itiveness that drove and sustained Vittorio Beltrami from the start, traits that were not common, when few really believed in the need to safeguard the roots of our history and the process of industrialization was all but destroying, in just a few decades, what it had taken centuries for man to build and perfect.  Vittorio, however, never gave up and he remained steadfast in his belief that what he was doing had purpose and value; now, at last, he is harvesting the fruits of his labors.

We are here to tell you about the work he does in the cheese-making sector. This work has always been a beacon for his ‘Azienda Beltrami’, so much so that when Vittorio talks about his goats and sheep, you can see the pride shining in his eyes.  In the northernmost part of the region, practically on the border with Romagna, there still survives the centuries-old tradition of making what is called “formaggio di fossa”, or “pit-aged” cheese.

The pits are dug in the soil, to a depth of several meters, and then they are filled with wheels of cheese. Inside the pits, the cheese undergoes a fermentation process, which radically changes it from an organoleptic point of view. It isn’t clear how or when this practice started, but it is conjectured that perhaps this was a way to save cheese for later use by the family, hiding it and safeguarding it from raids by marauders or simply from confiscation by landowners. Initially, people probably did not imagine that the cheese would change in taste, texture and aroma so drastically and so wonderfully!

Late in August, the different wheels of cheese (cow’s milk, ewe’s milk, goat’s milk or mixed) are wrapped in cloth bags, lowered into the pit and carefully nestled into a straw bed. Once the pit is closed, the fermentation process begins, slowly transforming the cheese, making it pungent to the nose and sharp on the palate. After three months, towards the end of November, the pits are opened amidst much merrymaking! Witnessing this event is truly a one-of-a kind experience – quite a feast for the senses, to see the bags covered in mold and to breathe in the powerful aroma released into the air.

If you are visiting Italy, we recommend that you go to Cartoceto on the last Sunday of November to take part in Vittorio Beltrami’s pit-opening; his pits are located on the site of the Frantoio della Rocca. It will be an unforgettable experience!

This article was provided by Luigi Silvestri, a professional consultant, living in and promoting the Italian Marche Region and was written by Gianfranco Mancini.

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