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Pit Cheese

Centuries ago on the Apennine mountains between Romagna and Marche, things happened that changed the food customs of local people and ended up creating the cheese which is typical of this hilly area.

Around the 15th century, it is likely that the farmers of the Romagna-Marche Apennines, tired of having to scrape by during winter due to end of summer raids by bands of outlaws, arrogant roaming militias or thieves in general, they began to hide all of their provisions underground, among rocks, and in natural or dug out holes.

pit cheeseIn this way, something was left for them to eat during the hard months of winter. Thus, the farmers discovered that their cheese, after three months in hiding, came out differently, with a much stronger odor, but edible.  Today that odor is considered a good smell, and what a smell it is!

In pits, this cheese takes on the aroma of wood, truffles, and moss from the environment in which it is placed.  The taste ranges from sweet to sharp, to a little bitter depending on how much milk is used and on the pits themselves.

But be careful not to be too gluttonous, as this cheese is fatty and high in calories, so it should be eaten in moderation!

Pit cheese can be made from pure sheep's milk or mixed (cow and sheep's milk) and it is aged for three months in the traditional oval pits carved out of rock.

Over time, this custom has become more organized and sophisticated.  The aging pits cut out of sandstone are very well taken care of, clean and lined with a suitable material.  The cheeses are placed in the pits in August and taken out in late autumn.  In Romagna, this delicacy can be found from Sogliano al Rubicone in the Forlì-Cesena province to Sant’Agata Feltria, Talamello and Mondaino, near Rimini.

Here are three traditional rules regarding pit cheese:

- put the pure sheep's milk cheese in pits in the months of April and May;
- only put cheese that has been aged for three months in pits;
- put cheese in pits only one time per year.


The Pit Cheese Festivals

The poet Tonino Guerra gave the name “Ambra” to the pit cheese of Talamello for its color, but also its taste is noteworthy!  According to tradition, here the cheeses are placed in pits only one time per year in order to obtain the highest quality.  It is good, fragrant, and goes well with other ingredients.  In November, Talamello gives visitors tastes on the two Sundays of the Festival of Pit Cheese “Ambra di Talamello” paired with a series of other typical local products as well as typical products from other regions in Italy.  Going is definitely worth it!

The Pit Cheese Festival in Sogliano al Rubicone is held every year on the last two Sundays in November and the first Sunday of December.   During the festival, a market is set up selling this cheese, and the pits are open to the public.

In Mondaino, pecorino pit cheese is made inside the ancient Mill where there are three pits dating back to the Malatestiana era, documented by notary acts from 1392 and 1458.  The cheeses are placed in pits once a year, in the four days of the Palio del Daino in August.  The unearthing of the cheeses festival takes place alongside the Festival of Santa Bibiana (the last Sunday of November or the first of December), the young Christian martyr from the 2nd century who is the protector of fields.

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Last modified Jan 10, 2017

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