In the verdant valley of Bitto, in Valtellina, it is produced a tasteful mountain cheese, perfect both young and seasoned. We talk about Bitto, PDO cheese from 1996 and Slow Food Presidium since 2003. Bitto cheese production is limited to some districts and pastures in the Bitto Valley, in Lombardia, by a severe regulation, in order to preserve the original features of cheese.
A small group of manufacturers, in order to preserve the traditional rules, also created an exclusive consortium, Consorzio Salvaguardia Bitto Storico, which protects ingredients and original methods handed down from one generation to another. This is what really distinguish the PDO Bitto from the Historic Bitto, which keeps unchanged the connection with the old local customs.
The term “bitto” derives from the Celtic “bitu”, which means “everlasting”: it is not a case, in fact, that the seasoning process of this cheese can last even for 10-15 years.
The first historic evidences about the production of this cheese date back to 1600s, inside the “Catalogue” by Ortensio Lando. At this link we can find an interesting document about the story of Bitto, with the most important documents and evidences about the production of this tasteful cheese.
Production and Regulation
Bitto cheese is a Protected Designation of Origin product since 1st July 1996, and the Regulation restricts the production only for the pastures of the Bitto Valley, in the provinces of Sondrio, Bergamo and Lecco.
All the wheels of Bitto are made with cow’s milk from the Alpine-brown breed, at 1400-2400 meters high. The Regulation allows using a small amount of goat’s milk (10-20%) in order to make cheese more intense and tasteful. Manufacturers of the Consortium use only milk from goats Orobica or from Valgerola.
The production period of Bitto starts in June and lasts until half/end of September, high altitude pastures inside mountain huts and “calèc”, typical structures of those lands. “Calècs” are rudimental stone built rooms, used to lodge animals at night, and in which there are some copper cauldron to prepare cheese.
The Consorzio Salvaguardia Bitto Storico controls that cows’ food is natural, with mountain herbs. The Regulation, instead, allows the use of barley, corn, wheat and other cereals, not exceed 3%.
Once created the wheel of Bitto, it is transported in the “casere”, some stone built locals set in the grazing lands. Here takes place the dry salting process for 15-20 days and in an average of every 2 or 3 days. The following step is the transferring of wheels in humid rooms (80-90% humidity) at a temperature of 15°C. Then it occurs the seasoning, whose duration goes on 2-6 months for table Bitto, 1-2 years for long-seasoned Bitto, perfect to grate.
At the end of the seasoning, a wheel of Bitto may weigh even 25 kg.
Bitto DOP seasoned 6 months has the 28,5% in proteins, 28% in fat, a total of 375 calories, so it is less fat than other cheeses, as Belpaese or Emmenthal, and a little bit less caloric than Parmigiano Reggiano.