Cheese-making traditions go back centuries in the alpine valleys of Piemonte’s Cuneo Province. Historians believe that Castelmagno cheese has been made in the Grana Valley since before the year 1,000. The earliest written mention of this prized dairy product is in a decree signed by the Marquis of Saluzzo dated 1277 which ordered that payment of rent for grazing land be paid in wheels of Castelmagno instead of currency.
Castelmagno is a cow’s milk cheese that may have a small amount (5% to 20%) of sheep’s or goat’s milk added for flavor. The method for making this noble cheese has not changed in a millennium. Castelmagno is considered a blue cheese because when aged it develops blue/green veins and a sharper flavor. In the 19th century, Castelmagno was considered “the king of Italian cheeses” and it appeared on menus in prestigious restaurants in Paris and London. Castelmagno’s decline came between the world wars as people left the mountain communities of the Grana Valley in search of jobs in places like Turin and Genoa. As the population plummeted, traditional Castelmagno production methods almost disappeared completely.
Castelmagno cheese received the European Union’s highest designation, Denominazione di origine protetta, in 1996. According to regulations, Castelmagno D.O.P. may only be produced and aged within the territories of the municipalities of Castelmagno, Pradleves and Monterosso Grana. The cheese must be made with raw cow’s milk from animals that graze only within the boundaries of the production zone.
In order to labeled Castelmagno d’Alpeggio D.O.P. the dairy animals must graze on indigenous flora in upland pastures within the production zone that have an altitude higher than 1,000 meters above sea level. This alpine version must also be produced at an altitude higher than 1,000 meters above sea level and only between the months of May and October.
Today there are only a few artisans who still produce Castelmagno d’Alpeggio D.O.P. and the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity has designated it part of the Presidia project. The Presidia work with local producers to safeguard traditional processing methods for products like Castelmagno d’Alpeggio, that are at risk of extinction.
Castelmagno cheese is one of the most prized ingredients in Piemontese cuisine. Typical dishes include gnocchi with a sauce of Castelmagno, risotto with Castelmagno and of course as a cheese course drizzled with mountain honey.