If there weren't already enough reasons to choose a holiday in Puglia, here's another: the cheese! With dozens of varieties, ranging from the hard, mature and tangy to the soft, spreadable and buttery, Puglia is a little slice of paradise for cheese lovers.
Here are a few we think you should try...
The number one spot must go to Burrata, a real Puglian invention we strongly recommend! Produced in Andria and Martina Franca, it is basically a cow's milk mozzarella with a surprise inside: a delicately oozing liquid cream filling… Ideally it should be eaten the same day of production, but in the unlikely event that you don’t eat it all in one go, it can last a couple of days in the fridge!
The Barbarian invasions of the 5th century AD, brought devastation to many parts of Italy. It was not all bad, however, as the very same pillaging hordes also bought their favourite long-horned species of cattle from the Ukraine. Hundreds of their descendents (the cattle!) still chew the cud in the Gargano area of Puglia. The aromatic, herby milk of these Podolic cows is used for making an excellent spicy, strong cheese, which is left to ripen for around 3 years...
The only DOP cheese made exclusively in Puglia (Caciocavallo Silano, also a DOP, is made in Basilicata, Calabria and Campania too), Canestrato Pugliese is a hard cheese made from sheep’s milk.Its name derives from the little baskets (canestri) in which it is left to age. It is produced between December and May when the flocks have come down from the mountains of Abruzzo to graze on the green, green grass of the Tavoliere Pugliese, in the provinces of Foggia and Bari. The locals love to grate it on their pasta.
Fallone di Gravina
Fallone is another of those “eat today” cheeses that Puglia loves to produce. Made with a mix of sheep’s and goat’s milk, it has a good flavour and is possibly at its best when spread on a chunk of bread from Altamura, where, along with Gravina, it is also made.
Manteca is another Puglian cheese invention, which is to say, not a just cheese! Pear-shaped, made with cow’s milk and not matured, it boasts two layers, the inner one being a soft deliciously creamy butter.
Made with a mix of cow’s and sheep’s milk in the Lecce area, Marzotica, as the name might imply, is traditionally produced in March (marzo in Italian) after the sheep have been grazing on the succulent green Spring grass. It is left to mature and dry for around two weeks before being wrapped in grass. This relatively short aging process gives it a delicately tangy flavour and, as a consequence, Marzotica is often grated on pasta dishes to add an extra layer of taste.
Pampanella, another cheese meant to be eaten the same day it is made, has a long history going back at least a couple of centuries. It is produced in Grottaglie using a mix of milks and takes some of its distinct flavour from the fig leaf in which it is wrapped.
Ricotta forte, or ricotta scanta is made all over Puglia (and neighbouring Basilicata) and is often used in cooking, thanks to its pungent, gum-tingling qualities! This flavour comes from a 3-month resting process in terracotta containers. Every three or so days it is stirred and then left once more to intensify its flavours. You will surely come across it on many restaurant menus, possibly in the form of orecchiette con la ricotta forte, and in shops, where it is sold in distinctive glass jars.