Canestrato Pugliese is a tasty cheese made in Puglia with semi cooked hard paste, in the North-West part of the Murgia area, a poor land where in the past sheep farming was the only way to earn a living. Today, the rediscovery of traditional production techniques has allowed to keep making a high quality cheese: only natural rennet is used and the most important steps are still made by hand. The feeding of sheeps (of the Gentile or Merinos strain) is important as well; they can graze the many varieties of weeds of the Murgia plateau, where no pesticides or other harmful substances are used: to protect these pristine places, the Alta Murgia National Park has been established.
The name Canestrato comes from the typical "bulrush baskets" where the cheese is put to age, giving the cheese crust their typical stripes. This is the only cheese from Puglia which earned the DOC and - after that - the DOP labels.
Its taste depends on aging: the young one has a sharp but delicate taste; as the months go on, and thanks to treatment with olive oil, paste becomes flakier and the taste becomes more and more sharp with growing piquant notes. The best time for enjoying it is after a year of aging.
In the past, it has always been used as a grating cheese, to add a unique flavor even to simple dishes such as orecchiette al pomodoro, spaghetti con i polipi or to the cardoncelli mushrooms.
In recent years, it is earning its stripes also as a semi-aged eating cheese, to be enjoyed by itself or with fruit or vegetables.