I had not tasted one of these rare beauties in several moons. Castelmagno is one of the rarest cheeses produced in Italy. It is a good thing that the cheese has been awarded DOP status. This should help sustain it, and for what little is produced, that it will continue to be unique and inimitable.
When I spotted these new arrivals in our caves they appeared to be completely infested with cheese mites. They looked a little haggard and unkempt; the mites seemed to have made quite a feast for themselves. I suppose one could say that a mite knows a good cheese when it sees it.
I took a picture of the wounded soldier and sent it back to our supplier asking that, sadly, it be returned. The mites had eaten their way almost a centimeter in some parts of the rind. Within a couple of hours I received a call from our friends urging me to cut into it and try it. I am so glad that I did! The paste of the cheese was absolutely beautiful: creamy-colored, moist and crumbly, a little splotch of blue here and there. The taste was piquant, savory, just a little salty, a little tart, and resplendent. The flavors are still lingering across my taste buds.
The first time you taste a Castelmagno it may be a little more than you expected, or something a little unusual. The goal of these cheesemakers is to preserve the rich alpine milk – milk from some very lucky cows grazing on the upper elevations of Italy’s Piemonte. The blue gradually finds it way into the paste, uninvited, not added. The blue (just like the mites) knows a good cheese when it sees it. The blue does not overwhelm the flavor; it only adds a little accent.
As for the mites, they add little to the flavor of the paste, very little if anything. Whereas the taste of the mites themselves (perfectly safe to eat, though an acquired taste) is a little like curry. Some aficionados rather enjoy a few mites with their cheeses. Having seen cheese mites under an electron microscope, I would rather skip them entirely.
I have found mites on many other magnificent cheeses, some of the finest in the world, such as Vacherin Fribourgeois. (Only the best Vacherins Fribourgeois appeal to the mites!) I remember now that this is not necessarily a bad thing—a heavy coating of mites on the surface of a cheese. Had we returned those Castelmagni I know they would have perished. Instead we will have a few days worth of these very rare and fine cheeses available, only for the Castelmagno cognoscenti.