I too thought cheese could not be improved upon. Then I found out about some savvy souls who decided to bathe cheese wheels in barrels of wine and everything I thought I knew about cheese was thrown up into the air.
…. For Prosecco cheese exists
It's still a pretty specialist product but, thankfully, there are people in the world who produce and source this modern marvel. I met up with Max from Drunk Cheese in Borough Market to learn their cheese story - its history, how it developed and where to find it.
Ubriaco cheese hails from Treviso, a town in the Veneto region of Northern Italy. Ubriaco in Italian means ‘drunk’, so this really is ‘drunk cheese’.
Ubriaco cheese is traditionally made from cow’s milk, which is aged for around 18 months, the last six months of which the cheese is soaked in barrels of a local wine. This ‘soaking’ process is called ‘ubriacatura’ (a phrase, incidentally, I feel we should all adopt for that murky transition period between sobriety at 8pm and belting out RESPECT at 1am).
There’s a little debate over who first invented this cheese, but Max tells me that it likely developed during World War One. Local farmers needed to hide their precious cheeses from hordes of hungry soldiers, so decided to stash them away in barrels of wine. Over the years processes have been adapted and refined, paving the way for new producers to experiment with this special form of infusion, utilising different alcohols and creating different cheeses.
There are still only a handful of traditional producers in the region and you definitely won't find it on the supermarket shelf. It is, in essence, one of the Veneto’s best kept secrets.
Drunk Cheese set up shop in Borough Market around ten years ago and they are now the self-proclaimed gourmet guinea-pigs of the industry. Together with Antonio, an 83-year-old producer who lives in a small village just outside Treviso, they’ve been experimenting with different types of cheeses for at least twenty odd years or so. They started off with the classic Ubriaco Cheese but have since branched out, producing popular cheeses like an Amarone soaked blue cheese and a pale ale soaked pecorino cheese.
All of the cheeses come with a story too. Like the ‘Basajo’ blue cheese, so called because Antonio’s granddaughter couldn’t pronounce Formaggio. Or the Blu ’61 (one of their most popular cheeses), which Antonio created to celebrate his fiftieth wedding anniversary. Then there’s the Dolomitic which is bathed in red beer, instead of wine. Apparently, Antonio was wandering the mountains when he bumped into a local brewer and, discovering they shared a common passion, decided to form a collaboration. So, now we have beer cheese.
All hail the ramblers of this world.
Other popular cheeses include the Fiore d’Arancia, which is coated in orange peel and doused in an orange liqueur and the Testuna, a goats cheese soaked in Baraola red wine.
What makes Drunk Cheese so interesting is that whilst the classic Umbriaco hails from the Veneto region, the company incorporates elements from other regions of the country too; the Margo uses a blonde ale from Piemonte for example.
This is the sort of cheese which will make you want to throw a huge elaborate dinner party, for more people than can fit in your living room and for more money than you can afford.
But that moment when you bring out a slap of prosecco infused cheese and a blue cheese which looks like a gateaux? You just can't put a price on that.
Drunk Cheese is located in the Green Market, Borough Market. For more information, you can follow them on facebook.
Looking for some more Italian inspiration in London? Why not pop over to Mercato Metropolitano?