Formaggio di Fossa is a sheep’s milk cheese. It gets its name from the fact that the cheese is aged in ditch-like caves, or fosse in Italian. The caves were probably created during the Middle Ages.
They are up to 16 ft deep and lined with reeds and straw that have accumulated over the years. They make the ideal aging environment for cheese because they are generally 70 degrees F and have 90% humidity.
The caves in Sogliano were regularly used to conserve grain, however they were also rented out for aging cheese. Two separate documents written in 1498 and 1498 attest to this practice.
Formaggio di fossa di Sogliano al Rubicone
Today the caciotte, or small cheeses made exclusively from sheep’s milk, or with a little cow or goat milk, are left to mature for at least thirty days before being placed in the caves. The wheels are placed inside cloth sacks. The name of the cheese’s owner and its weight are written in the sacks with linseed oil mixed with a special black powder. The weight of the cheese is still measured in libra, the ancient Roman unit of measurement, and used to calculate the rental cost of the cave.
The caves must be filled up completely and covered with empty burlap sacks and sealed with a piece of wood. Almost 40 pounds of sand is then placed on top of the wood. Within a couple of days after closing a cave, anaerobic fermentation begins due to the lack of oxygen available. The fermentation gives the cheese its characteristic smell and taste. A wheel of Formaggio di Fossa has a deformed shape, a compact and breakable rind and paste. Initially, its flavor is delicate, but becomes increasingly spicy with a bitter aftertaste. Its odor smells like damp forest floor.
The cheese is traditionally removed from the caves on November 25, Saint Catherine’s day. Once it has been removed, the cheese is ready to be consumed in regional soups like cappelletti or passatelli or grated over pasta. The cheese is also good on its own, or served with a piece of bread or piadina, paired with a little honey or balsamic vinegar.