Antrona Valley Mascherpa

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In Piedmont, ricotta is often called ‘mascherpa’ or its variants (‘miscarpa’ etc.), a Longobard term which originally defined, in general, fresh and white cheese (‘mascarpone’ also derives from this word, even if it belongs to a completely different category of dairy products). Suggested combinations: white wines, blueberry jam, acacia honey, brown rye bread from Ossola.Mascherpa is produced in Valle Antrona, one of the minor valleys in the Ossola area, in the south-west section, near the Monte Rosa massif. It’s obtained from the whey of cow’s and goat milk, with a small addition (8-10%) of milk and/or cream. Each cheese weighs between 0.5 and 1.5 kg. There is no rind; the curd is white and pasty, with a grainy, fat, crumbly, pliable texture. Scents and flavors are sweet and delicate, but more pronounced than in ricotta. It is produced all year round.The production of Mascherpa is not different from that of other types of ricotta. The process starts from the whey obtained after a first dairy processing. The fluid is then brought to almost boiling temperature (above 80 °C), so that the separation of whey proteins can take place (flocculation). In the past, to obtain better Mascherpa some acidic substances were used, such as acidified whey (agra), more rarely flavored acidified whey (buna or bouna), or white wine vinegar. To produce Mascherpa to be eaten fresh, ricotta is collected right after it has surfaced. In case of Mascherpa destined to longer aging, the surfaced ricotta is left in the production container and the whey is heated a few more minutes. This technique is used to obtain a slightly drier ricotta, more suited to aging. Once the desired result is obtained, the ricotta is placed inside a piece of cloth, which is then hung to give Mascherpa its shape (the following day it can be eaten fresh), or for additional drying (some of the water is drained to prevent aging problems). The product remains hung in the cloth for a few more hours and then placed in the fridge to be sold fresh, or in the cellar to age. Fresh Mascherpa may not be salted, but salt is needed to age it. A practice of the past (less common today) is smoking. Ricotta was hung in cloth or placed on a bench inside or next to the fireplace, where it would receive a colder but aromatic smoke, with a slightly drying effect.Ricotta from Ossola, with its traditional round shape, flatter on the resting side, is smoked on the embers of juniper wood. If aged for several months, or even a year, it becomes a hard cheese which, in the tradition of German speaking Walser people who live in the Ossola area, is grated on hot boiled potatoes sprinkled with chives.

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