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Bitto and Casera, the PDO cheeses of Valtellina

Two cheeses, one territory, two different identities.

Bitto PDO and Casera Valtellina PDO, protected by the same Consortium, are the expression of a mountain territory that stretches over the province of Sondrio, in Lombardy.

Bitto PDO and Casera Valtellina PDO over time

The entire history of cheese-making is closely linked to the need to preserve milk surpluses, and the Valtellina PDOs are no exception.

Starting with the etymology of the word Bitto, which derives from ‘Bittu’, meaning ‘perennial’. What better adjective for a cheese that could be kept for up to ten years! The Celts created this cheese, as did many others from the Po Valley area. 

Casera Valtellina PDO is much younger and takes its name from the ‘casere’, the ancient mountain lodges where cheeses (including Bitto) were aged. The history of Casera Valtellina PDO is one of community and sharing. In fact, farmers used to bring their milk to the turnaria and cooperative dairies in the Sondrio area for a collective processing in the 16th century. 

The processing of PDO cheeses from Valtellina 

The processing of the two cheeses is regulated by the Consorzio Tutela Valtellina Casera e Bitto, which defines all the production phases and the origin of the milk.

For Bitto PDO, we have an exclusively summer production, which runs from 1 June to 30 September. The cow’s milk is the one produced in the mountain pastures of the province of Sondrio and some neighbouring municipalities of the Alta Brembana Valley.

Only freshly milked cow’s milk is used, and goat’s milk may be added in quantities not exceeding 10%. The curd is cooked at a temperature of between 48 and 52 degrees, and the maturation period should not be less than 70 days. 

Each cheese varies in weight between 8 and 25 kilos, with a colour ranging from white to straw yellow. 

Unlike Bitto DOP, Valtellina Casera DOP is produced all year round and using semi-skimmed cow’s milk. Therefore, it is a lighter and lower-calorie cheese. The curd is cooked between 40 and 45 degrees, and the maturing days, as in the case of Bitto DOP, should not be less than 70.

The cheeses range from 7 to 12 kilos maximum and are therefore smaller. 

Valtellina PDO cheeses on the table

When matured to a younger age, the taste of Bitto PDO is mild, making it a perfect table cheese for cutting. Gradually with maturation (which can reach up to 10 years), the taste becomes more intense and stronger and, for this reason, more suitable for pairings or as the main ingredient in traditional recipes. Some people use it to make pizzoccheri, but it is also perfect in risottos and summer salads. And it is perfect to savour with a good Valtellina wine (link alla rubrica del vino, articolo vini valtellinesi), like Inferno or Sfursat.

Casera Valtellina can be used in the kitchen in many typical dishes like pizzoccheri, sciatt, articolo sciatt al cioccolato), round cheese-filled fritters, flat fritters called chisciƶi and taroz, mashed potatoes with green beans and, of course, cheese. The cheese can also be enjoyed on its own, especially if matured young, accompanied by a good glass of Valtellina Superiore DOCG red wine.

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