In the hard-to-find “Farmers” Area of Torino’s massive Porta Palazzo market, most of the cheese was smelly and looked like a rock. I saw and bought one thing that appealed to me. There was no sign and no talking in English. The cheese turned out to be spectacular.
I went back, but the seller wasn’t there.
I bought in the days before the Salon del Gusto. So I took photos of it and took it around to the Piemontese cheesemakers there, asking what it was. They laughed and said it looked “Dutch”, meaning someone had faked me. But I know Dutch cheese, and it wasn’t.
Six months later, I was back in Torino and went again to the Porta Palazzo to find the farmer, in vain.
But then I was in Bologna at a market and I saw a cheese that looked right – and then tasted right.
The mystery “Dutch” cheese was indeed not Piemontese, but not too far away. It’s Venetian Ubriacone.
The “Dutch” is on the left in my portrait, next to a Piemontese Grana.
I don’t know if you’ll find the Ubriacone, but you will find treasures IF you can find this part of the Porta Palazzo. Even many locals don’t know about it, so I made a map.
2 years later, back in Turin for a long-term cheese hunt, I learn that Ubriacone just means drunken. Any kind of cheese can be coated with wine, or even packed in the spent peel of crushed wine grapes as part of the process. In Piemonte a common Ubriacone is “Testun al Barolo”, from Cuneo, a southern territory within Piemonte. Testun is a white crumbly, pasty cheese with nothing in common to the golden, nutty, crystalline character of the Veneto.
I ask Lorenzo at the very fine Borgo Affinatori in Asti what kind of drunk cheese might be in my photos. He says it could be one of several Northeast Italian cheeses: Piave Vecchio or Stravecchio, a golden Asiago called Allevo (I’ve only had the white type), or a Vezzena. He caves Piemontese Bra Duro to his own specific (and remarkably similar) taste and texture, but he doesn’t get it drunk…