No pilgrimage to food heaven Piedmont is complete without a visit to this cheese shop—local specialties and in-house creations await.
The region of Piedmont in northern Italy is known for its hearty reds, crisp whites, hazelnuts, and truffles. The hilltop towns scattered across the agricultural landscape offer a bounty of delights for visitors to sample and take home.
In the center of the region, surrounded by the vineyards of the Langhe wine region, is the town of Bra. Home to the international and Italian headquarters of the Slow Food movement (a global organization that promotes traditional and local food), the town is a true gastronomic hub and well worth a visit.
Strolling around the picturesque streets, you’ll stumble upon many great restaurants, apertivo bars, and family-run stores overflowing with seasonal produce and regional specialties. Easy to miss, however, is a small artisanal cheese shop tucked away in an inconspicuous side street.
Giolito Formaggi is like a candy store for adults. One look at the counter and you won’t know where to start (or stop). Any concerns you had about needing a bigger suitcase are likely to become very real.
On offer are cheeses well known and less known—all from small producers, the majority from Italy, a number made with raw milk. Many were bought as young cheeses before being aged on site.
Alongside Parmigiano Reggiano, Tuscan Pecorino, and Gorgonzola, you’ll find local favorites such as ancient Castelmagno di Alpeggio PDO (aged in mountain caves) and creamy Langhe Robiola.
Then there are the eye-catchers. Take the Montebore, for example: a wedding-cake-like creation with three tiers, thought to date back to the 15th century. Or the Bra nel fieno: a cheese from the Cuneo valleys aged for 12 months in hay. You’ll be able to spot this one as it is quite literally covered in grass (“nel fieno”).
And finally, there are those exclusive to Giolito. These include Braciuk and Manicomio. Manicomio is a melt-in-your-mouth creamy paste. Handed to you on a spoon, it is the perfect blend of mascarpone, sweet blue cheese, and a few secret extras. Braciuk is a harder cheese, which brings together two symbols of Piedmont: Bra tenero PDO cheese and the Barbera grape. Aged in barrels of leftover must, the cheese has a distinctive red hue around the rim and a characteristic wine flavor. It is produced once a year during the grape harvest. And in case you were wondering about the name: ‘”Ciuk” means drunk in the local dialect!
Creativity and experimentation are a big part of Giolito Formaggi. And it certainly doesn’t end at grape must and hay. Keep an eye out for cheeses aged in coffee grounds, chestnuts, and even tobacco leaves.
INSIDER TIPFor the full experience, ask for a tasting tour of the shop. This includes a visit to the small museum and the cave where the cheeses are aged. You can book tours in advance by telephone or email (this is particularly recommended in fall when the harvest attracts even more visitors to the region than normal).
The Big Cheese
The man behind these creations, as well as the shop counter, is Fiorenzo Giolito. A true expert in all things dairy, he is always happy to talk to visitors and encourage them to sample different products.
Fiorenzo opened Giolito Formaggi in the 1970s, having grown up surrounded by the dairy business. His grandmother first started trading cheese in the province in the 1920s, collecting products from the surrounding valleys and distributing them to local markets. Some even she took to Liguria, from where ships departed for the Americas.
Today, thanks to clients around the world, the cheeses travel even further afield. And with the option to purchase all cheeses “sottovuoto” (vacuum-packed), we encourage you to help continue the tradition.
All Photos Courtesy Of Giolito Formaggi