The history
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The history

Cheese-making techniques that go back in time

The history of Strachítunt dates back to the dawn of time. After several centuries of national and international success, the cheese disappeared from the scene for a time. The last few years however have witnessed its rebirth, also due to the activities of Consorzio per la Tutela dello Strachítunt Valtaleggio. Today it is a superior quality cheese, and one of the nine DOP cheeses from the Bergamo area.

The Roman era

Cheese as a trading commodity

In “Italia descriptio”, the Roman scholar Strabo wrote that during the Roman period the inhabitants of the Orobic valleys, and in particular of the Brembana Valley (to which Taleggio Valley belongs), travelled to the larger towns to procure staple goods bringing with them resin, honey and cheese to trade with. It seems that the dairy industry was already thriving in the valleys of Bergamo during that period.
Indeed, along with with tree-felling and forestry, the breeding of dairy cattle and dairy activity have been the basic sources of livelihood for the people of Taleggio Valley since ancient times. The lack of minerals in the area has encouraged the development of alternative activities, such as grazing and cheese production

The Middle Ages

Paying tax with cheese

The production of cheese no doubt developed considerably during the Middle Ages. We know this because of a parchment from 1.380, a copy of which was seen by Francesco Biava Salvioni (C18th local priest and historian), reporting that the Valley was obliged to send the Duke of Milan “ducentum pensa casei boni pulchri ac bene axaxonati”, as a sign of submission. Given that two hundred weights were equivalent to 1400 kg (one weight was over 7 kg), this was a large quantity of “well-matured cheese, pleasing to the eye and taseteful”.

The Renaissance

On the table of the Visconti family

Today it is difficult to know with certainty which of the most famous cheeses produced in the Taleggio Valley, developed and refined over the centuries, would have been on the table of the Visconti Duke and his guests, and if these were goat, sheep or cow’s milk cheeses. If they were cow’s milk, as is more likely, they could have been Stracchino quadro, mountain cheese or Strachítunt.
The cheese industry in the Taleggio Valley is also mentioned in reports from the 1500s. According to these documents, in the Taleggio Valley alone (thus excluding the Milanese territory of Vedeseta) there were “500 dairy animals”; it is worth keeping in mind that even the richest families would have had at most “25 cows wintering on the Milanese plain”.

Seventeenth and eighteenth centuries

The Bergamo farm workers are no longer alone

The seventeenth century, and even more so the eighteenth century, saw intense developments in livestock farming. In addition to the permanent residents of Bergamo many people were involved in seasonal migration. Originally form the valley, seasonal migrants would leave the valley to go down to the plain with their livestock in the winter months, returning for the summer season to the high pastures where, as Giuseppe Locatelli (author of “Cenni ed Osservazioni sulla Vallata di Taleggio”, a handwritten document from 1823) clearly tells us, they produced a consistent and diversified production of dairy products, including Stracchino, Formaggella, butter, mascherpe cheese and, above all, mountain cheeses. Dairy farmers invested heavily in the Stracchino cheese during the brief period of time between the descent from the mountain pastures and when they left the plains. Those who remained permanently with their animals in the village also produced cheese during the winter; before being sold, they were seasoned to improve the taste of the resulting dairy products.

The nineteenth century

“Robbe di cacio squisitissime”

For what concerns the quality of the Taleggio Valley cheese production at the beginning of the 19th century we can learn a great deal form the vast travel literature of that time, in particular from the texts of Giovanni Maironi da Ponte who wrote: “Be it the effect of tasty herbs or for any other cause, there [in Valle Taleggio, editor’s note] the cacio cheeses are most delicious …”.
Since the end of the eighteenth century there has also been a significant change in dairy production, especially since the summer production of mountain cheese was discontinued in favour of a greater production of square Stracchino. These cheeses have received acclaim and recognition in national and international gastronomic fairs and are greatly appreciated by consumers. The ever-increasing demand for Stracchino of Taleggio has even led to a name-change; in town it soon became simply Taleggio.

Stracchini from Taleggio in the restaurants of Paris and London

Alongside a general increase in the production of Stracchino, there was also a significant production of what the local oral tradition – following the example of Strachì quàder (“square Stracchino”) – called “Strachì tunt” (“round Stracchino”). Strachì tunt cheese was renowned at this time in Milan; it was even sent to England and Alexandria in Egypt from Lodi. And Stracchino di Taleggio was on offer in the best restaurants in Paris and London.

Revenge of the Strachítunt

Despite stable prices of the main foodstuffs and improving conditions of the livestock, an 1889 report from the Chamber of Commerce concerning the conditions of the agricultural classes underlined the gravity of the agricultural crisis in the province of Bergamo. The report described how in the best eating places of the Taleggio Valley the traditional square Stracchino had been almost completely abandoned in favour of the production of Strachítunt, which was easier to place on the summer markets, especially in London. The Bergamo Alps produced a considerable quantity of dairy products; in particular, according to the report, every year 280 quintals of Strachítunt were produced in Taleggio Valley and another 100 quintals of the famous stracchini quadri of Taleggio.
The increased production of Strachítunt at that particular historical time – the end of the nineteenth century was a difficult period for farmers – could perhaps be justified by the higher market price and consequently increased profit for the producer.

The twentieth century and the present day

From crisis to rebirth

The production of Strachítunt flourished in the period between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, even on the eve of the Great War, but then suffered a significant decline during the First World War, a decline that subsequently continued.
There may have been a number of causes for the downsizing of production. One cause was probably a change in the market demand in favour of the old Strachì quader, now universally known as Taleggio, which was relatively easy to produce and fast to sell.

Leaving the mountains

A grave crisis in the mountain communities followed the great revolution after the Second World War and the subsequent industrialization and urbanization process, along with the economic boom and the lack of structural and infrastructural investments in favour of people and mountain activities. The mountain villages emptied and the traditional working methods that had been fine-tuned over the centuries – and that still had a role in the local and indeed international economy– were downsized or abandoned.
The Taleggio Valley was not spared, and few villages have resisted. A few young people have given up the lure of more remunerative activities in favour of maintaining ancient traditions, trying to combine them with modern techniques, adapted to new needs and new demands.

Hope for the future

Despite the crisis, fortunately, at least in Taleggio Valley, cheeses linked to its centuries-old dairy tradition have not completely disappeared. This is especially true for the Stracchino quadro, but also for the Strachítunt which for a few decades had been exclusively produced for consumption by connoisseurs or for the family.
The unique character of the Strachítunt comes from the air and water of the valleys, their bouquets and meadows. Thanks to the ancient processing technique to which the producers have remained faithful – produced first by a few farmers and later by the agricultural cooperative Sant’Antonio di Reggetto which has improved the production process, it has gradually become popular with the more cultivated consumers and has received the attention of the press and the mass media. These are extremely positive developments for the local farmers and cheese company and gives hope for their future, for their families and for the valley.