One of the most popular cheeses you will find on the Piemontese table is called Bra. It is a cow’s milk cheese that takes its name from the town of Bra in Piemonte’s Cuneo Province. Although this cheese has never been produced there, the town of Bra used to be a center for aging cheese that was made on small farms throughout the province. As a consequence, the weekly farmers’ market in Bra became the principal marketplace for this flavorful cheese.
Bra cheese comes in four varieties: Bra Tenero (soft), Bra Duro (hard), Bra Tenero d’Alpeggio (soft alpine) and Bra Duro d’Alpeggio (hard alpine). All four varieties are made using the same traditional methods and all have a flat, cylindrical form that has been pressed and salted for 6 days before aging. Bra Tenero is considered a soft cheese that must be aged at least 40 days but no longer than 6 months. Bra Duro is a hard cheese and must be aged a minimum of 6 months. Bra Tenero d’Alpeggio and Bra Duro d’Alpeggio are alpine versions that are produced only from June through the end of August.
In 1996 the European Union awarded Bra cheese its highest status, Denominazione di origine protetta, DOP. In order to be labeled Bra DOP the cheese must be produced and aged within Cuneo Province using only locally produced raw or pasteurized milk. Mostly cow’s milk is used but small amounts of goat’s or sheep’s milk are permitted to be added for flavor.
The alpine versions, Bra Tenero d’Alpeggio DOP, and Bra Duro d’Alpeggio DOP must be made only with milk produced in mountain communities with altitudes of at least 900 meters above sea level. During the summer months, the dairy animals graze on alpine grasses and wildflowers that impart a special herbal flavor to the milk used for these special varieties of Bra.