WHEN CHEESE BECOME ART
This extraordinary cheese is from Beppino Occelli, a company that has always been on the forefront of the slow food movement. The mixed milks for this centerpiece wheel are sourced locally from their own farm, aged on shelves made of varieties of their local wood in man-made and natural caves in the mountain town of Valcasotto, in the Piedmont region of Northern Italy.
This striking beauty is made with the highest quality alpine cow's milk and mixed with sheep's and/or goat's milk, depending on the season and production. The wheels are aged for 12+ months, then topped with dried fruit that is still wet from having been soaked in grappa (distilled grapes). This cheese was created to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the unity of Italy. The fruit comes from Sicily and combines grappa and cheese, symbolic of the joined south and north.
I am fortunate to have a friend like Anna Juhl, the wonderful woman responsible for Cheese Journeys, a cheese-focused tour company, who had visited the Occelli company and was given this wedge for her to give me to paint. I loved painting this jewel on a proper cake stand, as it's clearly an indulgent and special dessert cheese that tastes like the celebration of life.