We recently attended a virtual tasting event that paired Piave Cheese with Garda DOC wines, a new-to-us, winning combination. We fell in love with this flavorful northern Italian Alpine cheese, its taste enhanced by elegant wines from nearby Lake Garda.
There’s an old adage that says what grows together, goes together. Such must be the case for this perfect pairing of two Italian products from the Veneto region, both of which convey an authentic sense of place.
Home cooks and hostesses know that cheese is one of the most versatile foods in their kitchens. Not only does it impart a wonderful flavor as an ingredient in a variety of dishes but it can also be savored alone with wine, before or after a meal.
After this virtual tasting, as cheese lovers, we tried to find out what—beyond taste—makes Piave Cheese so special?
Where does Piave Cheese come from?
Piave PDO is an Italian pasteurized cow’s milk cheese that is produced exclusively in Belluno, a mountainous province in the northeastern part of Veneto that’s nestled in the Dolomites. The most famous cheese from this fertile area, its name comes from the Piave River that runs through the province.
Its production by small dairy farmers in this area has a long history. In 1872, a parish priest in Belluna promoted the creation of the first cooperative dairy in the then Kingdom of Italy (before unification). The idea spread and other cooperatives formed to produce butter and cheese. Ancient dairy farms, known as malghe (the name of the primitive farm cabins used as cheeseries) continued to operate alongside them.
It wasn’t until the 1960s, however, that the name “Piave” was regulated and made in small batches with techniques handed down from generation to generation. The production of the cheese, which achieved PDO status in 2010, has now grown to some 350,000 wheels per year making it accessible to American consumers, both online and in many specialty grocery and cheese shops.
At least 80% of the pasteurized milk for Piave comes from three breeds of cows: Bruna Italiana (Italian Brown) Pezzata Rossa Italiana (Italian Red Pied) and Frisona Italiana (Italian Friesian or Holstein). In addition to the Bellunese milk, the cheese is made with milk enzymes, salt and rennet.
What does the PDO mean?
Although copycat food products always make their way into stores in the U.S, authentic Italian cheese bears the PDO mark (in Italian, DOP, Denominazione di Origine Protetta).
This imprimatur from the European Union (EU) attests that the production of the cheese has been regulated by Italian and EU laws, and that the milk products come from a specific geographic area. The marking on the edge of the cheese helps the consumer know that they are buying the real thing.
The Piave Cheese consortium, Consorzio Di Tutela Del Formaggio Piave DOP, was formed in 2010 to protect the PDO designation from misuse, counterfeiting, and unfair competition.
What does Piave Cheese taste like?
This firm cheese is described as sweet, mild, and nutty with a slightly salty taste that people often compare to Parmigiano Reggiano PDO. Like that cheese, its flavor profile changes and intensifies with age.
There are five stages of aging Piave cheese:
- Fresco is the fresh form of Piave (20-60 days old);
- Mezzano is medium (aged between 61-180 days);
- Vecchio is mature (aged more than 180 days);
- Vecchio Selezione Oro, which is extra mature (aged over 12 months); and
- Vecchio Riserva (over 18 months)
Only three of these types are imported to the U.S., the Mezzano, Vecchio, and Oro.
The rind of the cheese is, at first, soft and light in color but becomes thicker, harder, and a darker yellow with aging. A younger Piave Mezzano tastes creamy and buttery; a more mature Piave Vecchio, the nuttier and more friable it becomes. Grated, the Vecchio form is wonderful for preparing risotto or polenta. The aroma of the cheese is reminiscent of Alpine herbs and flowers.
What foods pair well with Piave Cheese?
Mezzano Piave cut into strips is a wonderful partner for salumi, fruit compotes, fresh fruits such as pears and plums, and honey. If company is coming, pair it with a softer cheese on a tagliere (cheese board).
The Vecchio can be breaded (with semolina flour) and fried in extra virgin olive oil, looking much like golden fish sticks when they are done.
The Selezione Oro is tasty when grated onto salads, vegetables, pasta, soups or rice.
About Garda DOC wines
The Garda DOC is a consortium of vineyards and wine producers created in 1996. It encompasses 10 different appellations spread out over more than 31,100 hectares around the shores of Lake Garda, the largest lake in Italy.
In a terroir characterized by cool drying breezes moderated by the lake climate, some 10,000 growers and 40 wineries produce varieties of red, white, rose—still, sparkling, and spumante.
A hard, nutty cheese like Piave can be paired with either red or white wines but the Garda DOC wines we tasted included a Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio and Extra Dry Spumante.
Where can I buy Piave Cheese?
Ready for a taste? You’ll fall in love with this perfect pairing, too.
Check with your local cheesemonger or specialty grocer to see if the cheese is available locally. If not, the cheese is available from a number of online vendors:
- Supermarket Italy
- Murray’s Cheese
- Alma Gourmet
- Ditalia Italian Imports
If you want to learn more about how domestic cheeses are made closer to home, you can take the Tillamook Cheese Factory Tour.
Photo credits: Lead photo and Pinterest pin photo courtesy Consorzio Di Tutela Del Formaggio Piave DOP; all other photo credits as shown,
Disclosure: As part of the virtual tasting, we were provided with Piave Cheese and Garda Doc wines, in a campaign sponsored by the European Union. Any opinions expressed in this post are my own.
IF YOU GO
The road between Belluno and Lake Garda