Many surprises are originated from casual events, and it might happen that Medieval farmers, trying to hide their precious cheeses in pits dug into tuff rock and lined with straw, discover that this kind of ripening originates a sophisticated product, now renown in all Italy.
This is the case of “Formaggio di Fossa” from Sogliano al Rubicone in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy; quite popular nowadays, cheese is wrapped in cloth bags and placed in the pit, lifted on wooden platforms, and is then closed off entirely while the cheese matures for 80 to 100 days. The sealing of the pit limits the oxygen available to the cheese, enabling a process of anaerobic fermentation. The fermentation process and weight of the cheeses originate the loss of whey and fats, making it an ideal food according to the current nutritional requirements.
The habit to put the cheeses in the pits and opening them on Saint Catherine anniversary (November 25th) has been a rite since Malatesta family domination (from 1255 to 1500).
Some historians hypothesized the origin of the pits can be traced back to “icehouses”, a technique already known in Roman age, but there is no historical data about it.
We have historical data about 18th cent., a period in which the habit to make these cheeses season in pits was common practice, either for the need to hide food in a country that was devasted by armies and bandits, or the necessity to preserve a precious food who helped a population of peasants to face the hardships of winter.
The real thing I am sure of is that a trip there is highly recommended.
This cheese has turned into the gastronomic symbol of that pleasant village in Romagna hills; every year there are festivals in order to celebrate it.