This is the 2nd of four cheese producing factories that I visited on my trip to Italy with Sam’s Club cheese buyers: Auricchio, one of the best-selling Provolone producers in the world. This cheese business is crazy stuff. SO much going on in these factories… I’m telling ya, you’d be amazed. Provolone is a whole-milk cow cheese. 15 milk trucks a day deliver 400 tons of milk, which in turn makes 40 tons of cheese. Provolone is a semi-hard cheese with taste varying greatly from Provolone Piccante (sharp) to Provolone Dolce (sweet). The sharp provolone is made only by hand. The process was fun to watch. One guy gets the cheese all nice and smooth by folding it over and over and rounding it into a big ball.
Then he calls his buddy over and says, “Hey, I’ll buy you a glass of Chianti after work if you help me roll this into a big, long cylinder shape.”
Together, they pick up the cheese and place it into a metal cannister, which will help it to keep its shape.
Isn’t that amazing? They do this all day long… 6.5 hour shifts/6 days a week doing exactly what you see here. I’ve been complaining about my arms lately, but if I worked their job I don’t think I’d have any worries (good workout!) The cannisters are transferred to a big machine that will dip a whole bunch of them into cool water (to harden the form), then they’re dipped in warmer water, where the cheese will slide out and go into a brine for 20 days.
Yeah, even cheese that is this big. What the heck they do with this, I have no idea.
This was interesting- a giant bell… made out of provolone, painted/decorated with food-safe paint & with “Auricchio” boldly emblazoned on all sides. When I asked what they use these 100 pound cheese bells for, I was told that they sell 3,000 per year. Apparently, they’re popular to display as a table decoration for holidays in Italy. And then people eat them, of course. Hmmm.
Lots of different machines cut the provolone into all different shapes for packaging.
Sam’s already carries the Sharp variety of Provolone in their club stores, but they have plans to unveil a new product (hopefully by the end of the summer and in time for fall holidays). It’s called Le Provolizie (a sweet variety of provolone), and this is the cheese that I fell in love with on this trip! The product below is a terra cotta baking dish with a disc of provolizie inside. Put the dish in the oven for a few minutes, and the mild, sweet cheese comes out all melted and gooey (similar to the way that brie melts when baked). The product pictured serves 2 people. When I sat in on the business meeting that discussed this product, I piped up and shared my opinion that I thought since Sam’s was a club store and tends to sell items that are in large/bulk portions, the dish should be bigger and serve more people. They listened to me… so hopefully that’s the product we’ll see- a larger dish of melted cheese that feeds 6 or 8 people- when this makes its way into into Sam’s Club stores in a few months! I’ll keep you posted & will make it and share it on my blog when the time comes.
After the tour, Mr. Auricchio himself showed us his favorite place to eat lunch (one of those restaurants in Italy that you would never, ever find on your own as a tourist). Mr. Auricchio is a man full of life and personality. He sat at the head of the table and had our full attention with his stories and gregarious nature.
He asked the restaurant to make us tortelli (ravioli) stuffed with Auricchio’s sweet provolone. They complied. We had a lot of pasta while in Italy. None of it had sauce. None of it needed any. This pasta was sauteed in butter with a little bit of sage. And it was perfect.
I hope you enjoyed seeing the process of making provolone. We tasted a lot of it on the trip and I’ve purchased the sharp variety of Auricchio at Sam’s Club since I’ve returned. The sharp variety is just that… it has a strong, sharp flavor, and a little of it goes a long way. I think you really have to be a fan of Provolone to enjoy the sharp on its own, but it’s fabulous when it’s incorporated into recipes. I love the stuff myself. I’ve purchased competitor brands of provolone in the U.S. before, and I have to say that they really can’t compare. They either have very little flavor or are too much over-the-top with the strong flavor. Sam’s is transitioning from carrying a domestic sharp Auricchio Provolone to the Imported Auricchio (a little more mild, well-rounded cheese) that we had on this trip. The imported variety is one that you can confidently place on a cheese platter & it won’t be too strong or stinky for your guests. I look forward to that as well as Sam’s Club’s release of the sweet variety that I discussed above… that will be one to celebrate!
Other Italy posts you might enjoy:
Searching for the Best Cheeses in Italy
Visit to an Italian Gorgonzola Factory
Next up: Asiago!
Disclaimer: I’m currently under contract with Sam’s Club to write about my experience with visiting cheese companies in Italy. Honest opinions and observations are shared.