This is the 3rd of four cheese producing factories that I visited on my trip to Italy with Sam’s Club cheese buyers: Monti Trentini, run by the Finco family. The Finco’s draw on their 80 years of experience with milk to produce Asiago, Provolone & Grana Padano. They pride themselves on combining both tradition and quality with modern technology, using genuine milk, incontaminated air, and experience – all going towards producing only high-quality cheeses from the Trentino region of Italy. The company lies within the Italian Alps. All cheeses of this region are produced from cows that graze on lush, mountain pastures. As a result, the cows produce thick and rich milk that serves as the backbone for making these full-flavored cheeses. Their milk comes from Brown Swiss cows, which are cultured to live in higher elevations. Black & white cows give off a lot of milk, but it tends to have a lower fat content. So, in this case, low fat is not good!
The company has a darling little dairy shop adjacent to the factory, where they sell a whole lot of cheese to locals. Again, I had to get decked out in protective, germ-free gear before enterting the factory. Attractive, huh?
Machines do the bulk of the work here. Asiago is cut into smaller curds during the cheese-making process (alternatively, a cheese like brie is cut into large curds).
The machines do their business with transferring the cheese formulas from tank to tank, eventually separating curds from whey and pressing the curds into large wheels. The wheels are sent down a conveyor belt and the workers wrap them with plastic to help them keep their shape.
Here, Federica Finco is showing us the plastic… it has imprints of the name of the cheese, origin, DOP label, etc. This is what is pressed around the cheese and creates the imprinted exterior of the wheel. DOP is a certification done by every country in Europe that makes sure the cheese is authentic and that it comes from the specific region that’s been identified.
The Asiago wheels are then placed in a brine for anywhere from 1 to 3 days, where it forms protective crust.
Then there’s a dude who paints a light coating of wax on the exterior of the cheese. You can give him your color preference. Sam’s Club was interested in “red.”
Asiago Fresco (Pressato), which has a nutty, mild, slightly sweet flavor, is aged 40 days. By contrast, the more mature Asiago d´Allevo is aged for a much longer period of time- it’s similar to Parmesan in both texture and flavor. Shelves and shelves of Asiago cheese fill their warehouses, aging and waiting for their maturity. The temperature in the aging rooms is cool, which slows the process of aging… it’s a different way of developing flavor.
And then there’s the packaging process. Machines cut the wheels into various shapes and sizes, but the workers need to inspect each piece (to check the quality of the cut) before it’s sent along on the conveyor belt to the wrapping machine.
After the tour, we headed to the board room. I sat in on the business meeting where Monti Trentini shared new products that they were offering. We tasted cheese too- lots of it.
At the meeting, I sat next to Gianfranco Finco, who runs the company with his children. Mr. Finco, who has been doing this since the 1950′s, comes to work each day in a full suit and tie. He doesn’t speak any English, but his pride shined through while his daughter Federica gave her presentation. I sheepishly asked to take a picture with Mr. Finco and his daughter. He politely nodded and was probably wondering who the heck I was and why I wanted a photo taken with him.
Sam’s Club already imports the Asiago Fresco from Monti Trentini. This is the soft, milder variety of Asiago. It’s great served on a cheese tray with crackers, fruits and red wine. It’s also delicious in sandwiches (grilled cheese is the best!) and grated into pasta sauces or egg dishes. I have loads of it at home right now just waiting to be used up in new recipe creations. The most amazing cheese we tasted at Monti Trentini was Truffle Cheese, which Sam’s will be importing as well. It’s a mild cheese with small black truffle pieces incorporated into it. The flavor… is irresistable… and it has the taste of truffles. It’s definitely not an acquired taste, by any means. I had some kids in my kitchen the other day tasting various cheeses for me, and guess which one they liked (by far) best? Yep, the Truffle Cheese. It’s good stuff all on its own, or I suppose you could grate it into various dishes in place of other cheeses.
It was clear that the Finco family is very proud of their cheeses and the processes in which they are made. It shows in the quality of their products. These were my favorite cheeses of all of the factories we toured.
If you liked this post, you may also wish to read about the other cheese tours I took in Italy:
Searching for the Best Cheeses in Italy
Visit to an Italian Gorgonzola Cheese Factory
Visit to an Italian Provolone Factory
Next Up: Parmigiano Reggiano!
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.