The beauty of food, Montasio: a work of art.

Let’s pretend we are in a museum. We’ve just walked down bright corridors lined with neoclassical sculptures. We have seen ancient ceramics, display cases completely covered with jewels. On the walls, ancient canvases depicting portraits of women, bucolic landscapes and still lives. We are literally breathing art. We are also surrounded by the genius of the people who went through this life before us. Nice to see their expressions and their looks. The atmosphere around us is full of beauty.

Our guide stops in front of a medium-sized crystal case from which two other groups of visitors have just departed. Taking a proud bearing, the guide says “Here we can see a typical masterpiece of dairy art.”

We all go to the display case, intrigued, and admire a cylindrical form of cheese with flat and slightly convex faces. The form is commanding and flawless.

The plate at the case’s base recites “MONTASIO DOP”.

“Montasio cheese is part of the great family of Alpine cheeses,” says the guide as he walks around the highly polished display case.

“These cheeses date back to the first millennium. Their production was used to secure a perishable product such as milk.

“This provided food reserves for times when milk was scarce or non-existent.” “What a time-saving invention!” “They could therefore manage to eat cheese all year round, as we do!” exclaims a child, causing the guide to jiggle.

“That’s right: I’m going to tell you a little bit of history now. Montasio was born around 1200 in the Julian and Carnic Alps valleys, thanks to the perseverance and intelligence of the Benedictine monks.” Continues the guide.

In Moggio Udinese (on the north side of Montasio), there is still the convent, which is now used by the Clarisse nuns, where the various Malghesi production techniques were most likely refined. Let’s appreciate the beauty of this shape: the rind is smooth and thin, with a light color that darkens with age.

As a result, the consistency is compact and elastic. It softens in the Fresco version and gradually strengthens in the medium until it becomes decisive with a slight spiciness in the seasoned.

Instead, the Stravecchio version is particularly aromatic. As a result, we can say that you are looking at a genuine work of… ”

“No!” “Wait a minute” “Before declaring that this is a work of art, a tasting is considered necessary.” Says a kid in the crowd.

The guide, smiling, nods. “You’re right: I was about to invite everyone to the tasting in the room next door!”The group applauds and rejoices because there is always a party when Montasio is present.

Montasio traditions. flavors at high altitude

Marika is well aware that vacation means outdoor activities for her family and husband. One of the reasons she married him was because of this.

Since she was a child, she had admired her father’s image of an adventurous man, capable of overcoming adversity with a cheerful demeanor, perhaps for the journey through the Montasio’s malghe, from Chiusaforte to the Giacomo di Brazzà refuge was a bit much for a first day of exploring the Val Arba nature reserve.

Sara wasn’t complaining, but Samuel was getting tired and disheartened, so he stopped asking how much was missing from the shelter.

– Perhaps we should go back… – Marika murmured, concerned.

– We’re almost there; just a few more steps and we’ll arrive at the refuge! Marco exclaimed, his usual smile on his face.

The sight of the house drew Samuel’s interest as he walked past everyone to get to the benches where he could sit while the adults stared out the window.

At the refuge, you could enjoy local specialties, and the manager suggested starting with cold cuts and mountain cheeses.

– I like cheese, but I’m lactose intolerant… – Marco explained.

– Don’t worry, the Montasio cheese produced in the malga is excellent, even for lactose intolerant people, and has so many good qualities for growth and health that it gives you enough energy to go around the huts twice.

The manager of the refuge explained that Montasio cheese is highly valued because, in ancient times, the breeders of neighboring villages drove their cows to the mountain huts, which were the best place for grazing despite being difficult to reach.

The cows are free to roam and are not confined to the enclosure all day, allowing them to breathe in the fresh mountain air and tender mountain herbs.

They produced exquisite milk for the calves and their owners under those conditions, a raw material for making cheeses and dairy specialties rich in calcium, proteins, and vitamins and with very low, if any, lactose concentrations.

– Do cows still graze in this area? Asked Samuel after eating his share of Montasio cheese as well as his father’s.

– Yes, you’ll find them when you get to the huts.

In fact, they discovered them grazing in a calm and peaceful manner, perfectly integrated with the profiles and slopes of Montasio.

Samuel had never seen them up close; he imagined them in a stable in the middle of the flat fields.

– They are nice because they allow themselves to be caressed! Samuel yelled.

– Yes, but please avoid making sudden movements that startle them! –

– All right! –

Marika thought she should have named him Peter, after Heidi’s friend, because he was so lively, with red cheeks and her father’s smile on his face.

August and September at Malga Montasio

Vanni Micolini, member of the Livestock Owners’ Association of Friuli Venezia Giulia, narrates the events taking place at the Malga Montasio (Montasio Alpine hut) regarding genuine tastes and old traditions.

Where do the Malga Montasio find place?

On the Montasio Plateau. From Chiusaforte, in the province of Udine, you continue crossing the bridge on the Fella River, forward Sella Nevea. From here, follow indications for the Montasio Plateau and Alpine huts. This is the largest area in the Friuli Venezia Giulia Region designated for pasture, and in the period from June to the second half of September it hosts about 250 animals of 40 farmers residing in 25 different municipalities of Friuli.


Which are the next events at Malga Montasio?

12 August is dedicated to an excellent pairing: “Polente e Formadi Montasio” (Polenta and Montasio Cheese), event realized in collaboration with Gruppo Tutela Antica Polenta di Fauglis (Group for the Protection of Traditional Polenta of Fauglis). On this occasion, you will have the chance to taste Fresh Montasio PDO-from 60 up to 120 days of aging-, Mezzano (semi-mature)-from 5 up to 10 months of aging-, and Stagionato (mature)-over 10 months of aging-. Then, 2 September, the Municipality of Chiusaforte organizes a musical appointment “Tasting Montasio…in concert”. On the same date, in collaboration with ERSA, there will be the meeting with star chefs in the field of the project MADE. Chefs will be committed in preparing gourmet courses based on Montasio cheese. 9 September the “Transhumance Festival”, a unique occasion to admire cows embellished with crowns of flowers grazing. This is an old tradition preserved by breeders to thank for the positive trend of the pasture season, which ends with the cows reaching the valley. The event is organized in collaboration with the Cooperativa Malghesi della Carnia e Val Canale (Association of Alpine huts’ Owners of Carnia and Val Canale), it includes the degustation of a large variety of products from the mountain, among them Montasio PDO. Accordions will bright up the event. In fact, 9 September, the fourth Alpe Adria Accordion’s Festival will take place in the Malga. Besides these appointments, the Montasio Plateau is a perfect place for trekking and hiking. The Malga offers a home-cooked cuisine including tasty traditional dishes, for example frico with Montasio PDO, homemade cakes, along with the possibility of staying overnight in one of the 5 rooms with view of the mountains.


Do they organize educational activities in the Malga?

Of course, thanks to the fact that here it is possible to have an overview of the whole production chain: from pasture, to milking, cheese processing in the dairy and sale of the products in the food shop. Recently, we have hosted a group of 120 children from Udine. They followed a guided tour through the different subsequent phases, trying to understand, in concrete terms, the concept of “production chain”.


What do you like most of your work?

On behaf of the Livestock Owners’ Association of Friuli Venezia Giulia I cooperate in managing the Malga Montasio and organizing events that occur here. The thing I like most of working in the mountain is being outdoor, in contact with animals. One of the main objectives of my activity is to maintain alive traditions handling them down to new generations. Besides that, I am particularly interested in animals’ health. On the Montasio Plateau, cows can graze free and their milk mirrors the quality of their lives, therefore, cheese as well. Here they produce the best Montasio PDO Product of the Mountain: this cheese contains raw milk collected, processed and ages (for at least 60 day) above 600 meters of altitude. It is a natural product with a unique taste: an authentic culinary heritage that challenges flavors’ standardization.