Vicenza is a land with a pronounced vocation for cheese making, and not only Asiago. Morlacco is probably the tastiest and most widespread cheese
produced in the entire Brenta River valley and in the area of Bassano. Having originated in the Slav region between Istria and Dalmatia, which was inhabited in
ancient times by the Morlacchian people, this cheese came to the high plateau of Vicenza thanks to the shepherds who settled there around the XIII
century. At that time the cheese was made with goat’s milk, which was later
substituted by whole cow’s milk. Definite information on the production of Morlacco cheese goes back to the middle XIX century.
In order to increase the value and identify the product, several producers have adhered to the regulations emanated by the “Land of Palladio” Consortium, which
guarantees the origin.
There are two types of Morlacco today: highland pasture and Burlina.
- HIGHLAND PASTURE MORLACCO
Where it is produced
Highland pasture Morlacco is produced in the highlands of Mt. Grappa, on the slopes facing the province of Vicenza, where the “malgas” or dairy farms, graze their herds from June to September. The most frequently raised races of cattle are the Fresian, Burlina, Brown and Red Dappled and crosses between them.
How it is produced
Morlacco is obtained from processing raw and pasteurised cow’s milk, from animals raised in the territory of Vicenza. The animals are milked with mechanical systems and the milk is transferred to collection vats; prior to processing the whole or partially skimmed milk, it is cooled and conserved together with milk from other milkings. In fact, the transformed milk is the result of two milkings. It is then transferred to a warmer and heated to a temperature of about 40° C. When it starts to coagulate, the spongy mass obtained is “cut” with great care with wire or with the lira. It is left to set for about 15-20 minutes, until it has reached the right consistency. It is then cut very slowly, the result being cubes cut not more than a centimetre in size. The form thus loses the serum and becomes elastic and appropriately dry. It is then gathered into baskets or forms made of plastic or straw and is left to set in the trolleys and to drip dry for 10-12 hours. The form is then placed in wooden or plastic bands on steel benches, where it remains for 3 or 4 days, during which time the salting is done.
Morlacco is a cheese that has a cylindrical form, of a diameter of 25-30 centimetres, 8-10 cm high and a weight that varies from 5 to 7 kilos, faces flat, a hardly perceptible, tender and slightly striped crust. The pasta is soft, white, slightly straw yellow in colour when mature and is slightly ocellated. The taste is quite salty, but not spicy, and is accompanied by an intense perfume, which is accentuated with maturation. There are about twenty highland pastures where Morlacco is produced; each of them can supply up to a maximum of 300 forms per year.
- BURLINA MORLACCO
The Burlina cow, together with the Rendena and the Grey of the Adige Valley (which became extinct in 1989) were the only races present in the pre-alpine hills and the Veneto plains at the beginning of the century. The Burlina was widespread in the Provinces of Verona, Vicenza, Trento, Belluno, Padua, Treviso and Venice, with a count that oscillated between 20,000 and 30,000 head in the 1950s. This cow was well known for its resistance to tuberculosis. The Burlina later experienced an inexorable decline, to the point that in 1990 the FAO declared it to be a “race in danger of
extinction”. The Burlina is an average-to-small sized cow with a black and white
spotted mantle (the dominating colour is black). It is a typical bovine race used for both milk and meat and can live in marginal mountain environments on a poor diet. This cow is a fine grazer. It has a good yield at the slaughterhouse, the milk has excellent cheese making qualities and is extremely fertile. The cow has little
difficulty giving birth, has a pronounced maternal nature and has a docile nature. Because of its ruggedness, the Burlina resists to illnesses (with less use of antibiotics), which permits the production of quality milk. Morlacco cheese is therefore tied to the Burlina race, which is present in the territory of the province of Vicenza and is fed
prevalently in the pasture and with hay as forage, integrating the diet with feed or simple concentrates and compounds originating on the farm or purchased from qualified suppliers.
The animals are milked in a milking facility and the milk is transported to the collection vats; before processing, it is cooled and conserved together with milk from other milkings. Again in this case, the milk transformed comes from several milkings performed within a maximum period of two days. The raw and whole milk from these milkings is transported to a heater and curdled at 37° C. When the curdles are added (natural liquid from the calves) it is left to coagulate for about 15-20 minutes. The form is then cut with a wire and left to set for 5 minutes.
After this it is collected in baskets (which are traditionally made of rush, but may also be of plastic) and left on a table to drain. After 12 hours, the form is dry salted and banded with wood bands, where it remains under salt for 2 or 3 days and turned over daily. The purpose of the salting is to conserve and sanitise the cheese (it controls the development of microbes) and for osmosis (the cheese releases the serum and is enriched with the salt). It may be aged for up to three or four months, although it may be marketed after 60 days.
- Product name: Morlacco. This cheese is known with various names, including Morlaco, Burlacco, Morlak and smoked, basketed Morlacco. It is divided into Burlina Morlacco (at least 70% of the milk of this variety must be from Burlina cows) and Mountain Pasture Morlacco. It may be marketed either fresh or aged.
- The milk: Morlacco cheese from the Mt. Grappa area is obtained from processing raw cow’s milk, especially of the Burlina cow race. According to tradition, the Burlina race was brought from the north many centuries ago by the Cimbrian. Morlacco has always been tied to the Burlina race, which is fed with the traditional system (fresh mountain pasture grass, naturally dried forage, cereals, such as corn flour and soy, without the addition of feeds and industrially produced extracted nuclei).
- The curious thing about Morlacco is that in the past this type of cheese was called “potted”, because the forms were covered with various layers of clay while they were still fresh in order to isolate them from the air so to concentrate the original tastes and perfumes, similar to what is done with “ditch” cheeses. The same result could be obtained by wrapping the forms in a robust piece of canvas and burying them under a layer of sand.
Recipe with Morlacco d'Alpeggio cheese
300 g. puff pastry (the frozen kind can be used)
250 g. of Morlacco cheese
1 bunch of basil
2 green onions,
1 tbsp flour
100 g. cream
20 g. butter
Clean and mince green onions keeping some green stem. Lay the puff pastry on a cake-tin (possibly with removable border). Make little holes in the dough with a fork. Set in fridge.
Dice cheese. Mix cream with eggs and sprinkle abundant pepper and minced basil.
Season with little salt because Morlacco cheese is quite tasty. Put green onion on the cake tin. Pour the compound and bake in pre-heated oven to 200°C for 30 minutes until dough is done and the surface pretty golden.
Serve hot or warm.
Warm Morlacco salad
200 g. Morlacco cheese
250 g. red chicory from Asigliano
100 g. smoked bacon
1 small bounch of chive
2 green onions
extra virgin olive oil
Mix in a big salad bowl sliced chicory, green onion and chive. Season with salt (take care that Morlacco cheese is quite tasty), pepper and add hot diced smoked bacon (previously roasted in a pan with diced Morlacco cheese).
Morlacco cheese with vegetable-garden colors
Cover a dish with slices (1 cm.) of Morlacco cheese. Make a salad with seedless tomatoes, finely chopped celery, fresh
onion and basil (if you want some cucumber too).
Add some extravirgin olive oil and serve.