Ubiquitous in northern Italy, where it is liberally used in many recipes from the Lombardy region and in the very tasty quattro formaggi – the “four cheeses” sauce used on pasta, pizza and lots of other dishes, gorgonzola is considered one of the Italian cheeses classics. Also known simply as ‘zola’, it takes its name from the formerly agricultural village of Gorgonzola, which has now been absorbed by the greater Milano.

Zola is a type of bleu cheese distinctly less pungent than most of its ilk – namely, Roquefort – made with unskimmed cow milk injected with penicilium glaucum mold. It is aged in a cave for about four months during which it is stabbed from time to time with metal rods to allow the edible mold to properly stripe its white paste. There are two types of gorgonzola cheese: dolce (meaning ‘sweet’) and piccante (‘piquant’). The former is rather soft and almost buttery, even dripping a typical serum “tear”, while the latter is more aged and firmer. Both have in fact a bit of a “bite” to them, so don’t take their names too literally. Genuine gorgonzola cheese is only produced by the 427 cheesemakers members of the official consortium. It can be recognized by the 12 kilograms tinfoil-wrapped wheels stamped with the ‘DOP’ brand. Other zola-like cheeses can use the name but must be branded as ‘DeCO’ – they are not necessarily of inferior quality, and they often include extra ingredients shunned by purists, such as chili pepper powder to make them spicier.

The absolute best gorgonzola, on the other hand, is only produced by a handful of farmers using the milk from the Brown Swiss cow breed as described in the original recipe (from the year 879!). Everyone else is now using other breeds yielding more milk per head. To taste the various types of zola your best bet is of course the village of Gorgonzola itself, whose Autumn fair features a three-days Sagra Nazionale del Gorgonzola (‘G. National Festival’).