It is rare to find multiple attributes in one cheese (soft or hard, sweet or pungent), but Montasio is like some of the most famous wines of Italy that have several characters (normale, riserva, superiore) and many high notes, when it comes to taste. The reason for this is that three separate cheeses are produced and fall under one name. Montasio is a DOP, Denomination of Protected Origin, cheese that originated in the northeastern region Friuli- Venezia Giulia, but today it is also manufactured in the provinces of Belluno, Treviso, Padua, and Venice in Veneto.
The cheese is made from cow’s milk and can be found in fresh, semi-aged, and aged versions. The fresh Montasio is available after two months and has a soft, smooth, and pliable texture with a mild taste and a hint of sweetness. After 5 to 10 months the semi-aged cheese is ready for consumption and has developed a firmer consistency and slightly stronger flavor, but is still on the mild side; also the color has changed from off-white to straw-yellow. In its final act, the fully aged cheese, which is typically used after one year, completes its transformation and becomes darker, compact, flaky, and pungent.
Montasio can be used in many ways. The younger versions are characteristically eaten as a table cheese, whereas the matured cheese is frequently used for grating. However, both semi-aged and aged pair beautifully with cured meats, such as prosciutto or salame, as well as fruit, like pears and apples, while the fresh and aged varieties melt easily and create a flavorful sauce for pastas, meats, and vegetables.
Gnocchi with Montasio Sauce and Leeks
2 tablespoons butter
1⁄4 cup flour
2 cups milk
salt and freshly ground pepper
nutmeg, freshly grated
10 ounces fresh Montasio, diced
1 1⁄2 pounds potato gnocchi
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 leek, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced
In a heavy bottom saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the flour and stir with a wooden spoon. Cook for 2 minutes over medium-low heat without allowing the flour to take on color. Meanwhile, in another saucepan, heat the milk until it’s almost boiling. Slowly pour the milk into the butter-flour mixture, whisking constantly to prevent lumps from forming. Bring to a boil, then cook over medium heat, whisking often, until thick, about 8 minutes. Lower the heat if the sauce starts to stick to the bottom of the pot. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Transfer the sauce to a double boiler and add the Montasio. Stir until the cheese is melted and the mixture is smooth.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add salt and the gnocchi and cook until they float to the surface. Meanwhile, in a skillet over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the leeks and cook until translucent. Remove the gnocchi from the pot with a slotted spoon and transfer them to the sauce. Add the leeks and toss well to coat. Serve immediately.
Wine Pairing: Fruity light-bodied white
- This Montasio recipe and article was featured in the Septmeber 2010 issue of our e-magazine Cibo. To subscribe, please click here.