A heavenly hybrid, drunk cheese, whatever you call ubriaco, the wine-soaked (yes, wine-soaked) cheese hailing from northern Italy’s Veneto region, you’ll be kicking yourself for not coming up with one of the world’s most alluring culinary marriages.
Those who did come up with it allegedly did so out of necessity, not entirely expecting to create a famous delicacy. When hungry Austro-Hungarian troops moved through the Veneto region during World War I demanding food, farmers were forced to come up with unique hiding spots: store wheels of cheese in wine barrels, or hand them over. The farmers, being Italian, opted for the former.
“Italians instinctively know how to use their surroundings to create more drama with their cheese,” says Sogna Ocello, of Sydney cheese emporium Formaggi Ocello. “If they’re not soaking it in wine, they’re rubbing truffles on it, wrapping it in hay or chestnut leaves.”
According to Ocello, this experimentation is all part of the course in pursuit of the perfect preservation technique. A slightly less gripping version of ubriaco’s origin story posits cheesemakers habitually tried to protect their wheels from bacteria and parasites by covering them with grape pomace or marc – the remains of grapes used in winemaking. Regardless of which story you take as truth, wine-soaked cheese is now, thanks to providores like Ocello, here to stay in its own right. Preservation aside.
Ubriaco (not-so-coincidentally, the Italian word to describe a drunk), starts out as an 18 month-aged wheel of hard, unpasteurised cow’s milk cheese, left to soak in barrels of, raw grape and wine for anywhere between a few days to three months. The entire process, from regular cheese wheel to anything-but-regular ubriaco can take up to two and a half years.
“In order for the cheese to refine properly, you have to allow it to make love,”
Montasio, Fagagna and Marsure cheese were traditionally among the most commonly used for the procedure. Typical of the Italian north-east were also the grapes used, like Raboso, Merlot or Cabernet Franc. Some drunk cheese providores even opt for a bubble bath, using sparkling Prosecco instead of a dry varietal.
“In order for the cheese to refine properly, you have to allow it to make love,” says Antonio Carpenedo, founder and owner of Factory La Casearia Carpenedo, one of Italy’s most notable producers of drunken cheese, located in the northern town of Treviso. “With the right [amount of time, humidity and ambience] the wine penetrates the cheese. The cheese has been inebriated, not only by wine, but also spices, or aromatic herbs.”
The Carpenedo family are the authority on ubriaco in Treviso, having ‘officially’ launched and popularised wine-soaked cheese in 1976. Today, Antonio and his two sons Ernesto and Alessandro have perfected the technique. They make over 20,000 wheels of cheese a year and offer 15 types of drunk cheese soaked in different wine washes – red, white and Prosecco – ranging from 100-200 euro each. By far, the crowd favourite is ubriaco di Raboso, made with a local Treviso wine.
The result really is the best of both worlds, what every good cross-over should aim for – sweet, floral and fruity notes from the wine meet the sharp and bitey cheese at the table, and turn the crust a richly-hued purple in the process. “Every region of Italy has its own spin on ubriaco, but overall it’s sweet and very winey,” says Ocello. “The wine actually keeps the cheese very moist, so texture-wise it just melts in your mouth.”
On offer at Ocello currently are three ubriaco products – a Zibbibo, a Prosecco, and a Drunken Cheese Selection. Look out for others like Capo di Stato, a drunken hard cheese matured for 24 months, as Italy heads into autumn – prime time for ubriaco production.
“Once winemakers in Italy have finished making wine for the year, they use the leftovers to preserve the cheeses and make ubriaco.”
Perfect timing for your next wine and cheese night.
This is real comfort food, warming and filling, based on potatoes and enhanced with lots of delicious cheese. The rich pastry is very tender and almost melts into the filling beneath. This classic Greek pastry comes in many shapes and sizes - pies, spirals, and in this recipe, triangles. Little triangles make them perfect for vegetarian-friendly party nibbles.
This is real comfort food, warming and filling, based on potatoes and enhanced with lots of delicious cheese. The rich pastry is very tender and almost melts into the filling beneath.
This classic Greek pastry comes in many shapes and sizes - pies, spirals, and in this recipe, triangles. Little triangles make them perfect for vegetarian-friendly party nibbles.