BENGODI

A journey around ethnic Italy

VEZZENA

An intense and amazing “meditation” cheese. The consistency is hard, compact under the knife yet crumbly between the fingertips

I ate the best Italian cheese and I do not really know its name, and I don’t where, by whom and how it is made. So I called Roberto Brazzale, the person who sent it to me. Brazzale is an honest cheesemaker: he does not claim to be the one who makes the best Italian cheese. He merely sells it in the factory outlet, alongside his other cheeses. To start with, he explains that the best Italian cheese is called Vèzzena, accent on the first E and the Z is pronounced like the Z in the word “mezzo.” Ouch, a bad start, unusual accents and pronunciations make the name of the best Italian cheese difficult to remember outside the small area where it is produced. The problems continue: the authoritative “Encyclopaedic Dictionary of Cheeses” says Vèzzena is a cheese from Trentino, more specifically the Vèzzena Pass, while the label reads “Malga Dosso di Sotto, Cima Larici, Asiago Plateau”, that is, in the province of Vicenza, in the Veneto. Consortium cheeses have precise, bureaucratically defined boundaries, while wild cheeses, like the Spirit, are free to roam, following the wild cows (in this case, the indigenous Rendana breed; the animals are small in size, making them ideal for mountain pastures, unlike the ubiquitous, and rather clumsy Friesian breed). The label also says “Extra-aged Vèzzena”, so I ask Brazzale: “How old?” “Who knows. It could be about two years old.” The best Italian cheese seems to be even more than that, yet it is in great shape and not necessarily doomed to die in a cheese grater. The consistency is hard, compact under the knife yet crumbly between the fingertips, and the beauty is it is crying. It drips. As soon as you cut it, its eyes fill with tears (dripping fat). And there’s a good reason why: it weeps for the fate of the Italian mountain animal husbandry, its wonderful but neglected cheeses, the herdsmen who are underpaid heroes, unknown soldiers for whom no one erects monuments but, quite the contrary, everyone puts a spoke in the wheels starting from the minions of Local Health Authorities that apply European regulations designed to stifle individuals and unleash industry. This intense and amazing Vèzzena is a meditation cheese and this makes me meditate on Rendena cows: as they graze freely up there in the mountains, they eat the best flowers to give the herdsman the most fragrant milk, and I love them as if I were a Hindu, or Giosuè Carducci.

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