Furmàcc, furmai, formai are all dialect words for “cheese” used in the Alpine valleys in and around Lombardy. Furmàcc del féen is not just a name, but a declaration: cheese of/from the hay (fieno in Italian), emphasizing how much the quality of the milk and the resulting cheese are determined by the hay and grass the cows have fed on.
Throughout the Valtellina and in its tributary valleys, from the Val Chiavenna and the Val di Lei to the west (following the course of the Adda River) and to the east as far as the Stelvio and Livigno, it is traditional to distinguish the production of summer cheeses, made from the milk of cows feeding on rotationally grazed high-mountain pastures, and the winter cheeses made lower down in the valleys. This distinction relates to much more than just when and where the cheeses are made.
In the 100 days up in the mountains, full-fat milk is used to make cheeses known as grasso d’alpe, with various local names, such as Storico Ribelle, or Historic Rebel, another Slow Food Presidium. Down in the valleys, skimmed milk is used to make a semi-fat or low-fat cheese known as latteria. The cheesemaking process is not very different—we are in the category of semi-cooked curd cheeses. The summer production is associated with the by-product mascherpa, a kind of ricotta, while in the winter the fat skimmed off the milk is used for butter. This is the case for furmàcc del féen, produced down in the valleys in the winter, primarily by the Historic Rebel cheesemakers but also throughout the rest of the province of Sondrio.
The semi-firm cheese, produced in forms weighing between 5 and 10 kilos and 5 to 8 centimeters high, is aged for a minimum of 50 days, though the aging can easily be extended when the cheeses are stored in natural aging rooms with the right temperature and humidity levels.
This mountain cheese from the valley floor is distinguished by its versatility in the kitchen. It is perfect with sciatt, typical buckwheat fritters, as well as in taroz, mashed potatoes with beans or green beans with butter and cheese, and can also join or replace its richer high-mountain cousins in the most symbolic dish of these valleys, pizzoccheri, buckwheat pasta typically served with cabbage, potatoes and cheese.
Furmàcc del féen is made from late September to early June.Back to the archive >
Produced in greater quantities than its big brothers from up in the mountain pastures, furmàcc del féen is a more common and everyday cheese, but still of very high quality. This key to this quality is in the name: féen, which refers to the careful choice of animals and grass, as well as traditional cheesemaking skill.
Sondrio province, Lombardy region
Valli del Bitto
Via Nazionale, 31
Gerola Alta (So)
Tel. 0342 690081-334 3325366
Seasoning, point of sale and tasting.
Tel. 335 1619279
Slow Food Presidium coordinator
Tel. 339 4131363