Named after the highest peak in Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Monte Montasio, where the mountain pastures are believed to produce the best milk for this renowned cheese. Mountain milk from the cows in this region is high in butterfat, bestowing the Montasio cheeses with its signature richness. Montasio has been produced in Friuli-Venezia Giulia since the 13th century. Benedictine monks from the Moggio Udinese Abbey perfected the cheese produced by the local shepards and began to export it towards the Adriatic, into the Veneto and over towards Trieste.
Today, the production of these cheese is regulated by its own DOP, which guarantees the products quality and origin. Montasio can only be produced in Friuli-Venezia Giulia and certain provinces of the Veneto.
The production process today has been modernized, but still basically follows the same steps. The evening milking is partially skimmed, then combined with the milking from the following morning. The milk is pasteurized and then heated to 100°. Rennet is added to cause the milk to coagulate. The large curds are then broken up to smaller grains, and the milk reheated to facilitate the separation of these small curds from the whey. The curds are wrapped in cheesecloth and pressed to remove any excess whey. The cheese is then placed in a wet brine for 48 hours and then covered with dry salt.
After salting, the cheese is aged - from anywhere from 2 months to 2 years. This aging occurs in a temperature controlled room, or cave, and the cheeses are regularly turned and inspected. There are three types of Montasio. A Montasio fresco, or ‘fresh’ cheese is the youngest variety, aged only 2 to 5 months. The fresco is white, with a soft rind, and a mild, delicate flavor. Montasio mezzano has aged 5 to 10 months, is a bit more yellow, with a stronger, tangy flavor. The stagionato variety has aged for a least 10 months, and up to 2 years. It has a dark, hard rind, is golden yellow and quite firm. The stagionato is a great aged cheese for grating, and for making the traditional dish from Friuli-Venezia Giulia, frico.
These cheese, and the traditional dishes prepared with them, are celebrated each year at the Sapore di Montasio festival held each October in Codroipo, Udine.