Posted by on Oct 18, 2011 | 0 comments

Stefano, from Malga Cadino, in his Bagoss cellar. Photo courtesy of archiviw32 (Flickr).

While eating my way through the slow food Cheese Festival in Bra, I fell in love with Bagoss cheese. At the time, I didn’t know where it came from or how it was made, but I knew I wanted more. There were at least four different samples of the cheese at different levels of maturity. The youngest version of the cheese that had been aged for one year was sweet and supple with a fresh lightly floral aroma, while the oldest cheese, aged for two years, was intensely salty and crumbly, similar to aged Parmigiano Reggiano.

When I got back to Parma I searched all of my favorite cheese shops for Bagoss to no avail. I slowly forgot about the cheese, distracted by the local bounty of Parmesan.

It wasn’t until Marcos and I were taking a joyride through the mountains in Lombardy on a weekend trip to the Lake District that I saw signs indicating “Bagolino, home of Bagoss”. We followed the signs up a steep mountain, passing by multiple herds of free-range cows and goats, chomping down on lush grass under the bright sun, and breathing in the fresh and cool mountain air. This was some seriously happy livestock. I was a little jealous.

We drove up to a wooden sign indicating the town center of Bagalino and various local attractions. Trattoria Il Cerreto intrigued us, so we made our way to the restaurant. As we passed by the adorable town center we observed lots of groups of little old men in hats chatting away at the cafes. Most cafes had large signs advertising that their Cappuccinos were made with local organic mountain milk, and every other storefront window proudly displayed wheels of Bagoss cheese at various stages of maturity.

It was grandmotherly stick-to-the-ribs kind of food taken to a gourmet level, a really special and totally unexpected meal to say the least.

The restaurant was about five minutes further up the mountain than the main part of town. The trattoria was so quaint and unassuming that we almost drove right past it. We walked up the stairs of the homey little building to find a traditional wooden restaurant with a bar area. Surprisingly, the bar area was decorated with license plates from at least twenty different U.S. states. We were seated in a cozy room decorated with some serious rugged mountain décor; deer antlers and a boar head included.

A petite woman with a big voice, seemingly disproportionate to her tiny frame, came by to describe the menu of the day. We ordered the antipasto platter to share, penne in a creamy Bagoss tomato sauce, fresh tagliatelle with venison ragu’ as our primi piatti, braised wild boar, and veal medallions with locally harvested that-very-morning porcini mushrooms for our secondi piatti.

Every dish had soulful and rustic flavor and was made with local wild ingredients, yet it was obvious from the presentation and the perfectly cooked and balanced flavors that the dishes had been prepared by someone with extensive professional training. It was grandmotherly stick-to-the-ribs kind of food taken to a gourmet level, a really special and totally unexpected meal to say the least.

After we finished our lunch we headed to the bar to pay. The bar area was lively and loud with local men drinking coffee, discussing politics, and playing cards. The young and friendly chef offered us a homemade, bright green, distilled liquor made from local herbs to help us digest all of the hearty food as we and chatted about the restaurant. We learned that the chef had in fact been to culinary school. After he graduated he decided to return home and bought the little restaurant with his mother, our waitress. 

The chef also explained that Bagoss gets its slightly orange color from a pinch of saffron added to each batch during the breaking of the curd. He then described how the best Bagoss is made from summer milk. Every summer, the dairy farmers of Bagolino lead their cows up the mountain to dine on all of the fresh summer grass and wildflowers. There are various hut stations up the mountain where they make the cheese throughout the summer as the cows graze. At summer’s end, the cows and young wheels of Bagoss are then taken back down the mountain where the cheese is aged. We talked about the town and its traditions for at least another half an hour before we decided it was time to go. The chef and his mother hugged us goodbye as if we were old friends, and I promised the chef that next time I came back, I would bring him a Maryland license plate.

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