Alto-Adige is Italy's northernmost province. It is full of glaciers and in summer, rolling Alpine hills with lush grass and wildflowers. It was part of Austria until 1919 so, this week's cheese has two names. Stelvio is what the Italian's call it and Stilfser is what the German speaking locals in Alto-Adige call it.
The average farm size for the cooperative producing our Stilfser is 9 cows. Yes, nine cows per farm! This small scale of milk production does not normally make its way from Europe to America. Most of what we see here is produced on a much larger scale.
Additionally, since 2003 Stlifser is now protected by EU law and can only be made with cow's on pasture. The most hay or silage they can be fed is 15 kg during the summer. This means they eat nothing but luscious Alpine grass/wildflower blend. If you ever see these pastures like I have, you may cry for joy that such agriculture still exists. This is the way the world's best milk was made 100 years ago.
Even the blend of bacteria used to treat the rind of Stilfser is carefully controlled by the EU. It must be a blend that is naturally occurring in the area surrounding the Alto-Adige city of Bolzano (in German Bozen). The blend is distinctly different than any other washed rind cheese. It lends the slightest and most intoxicating funk to the cheese that is mild in comparison to other washed rind cheeses.
The slight yet distinct aroma of this cheese is perfect for this semi-soft jewel of fermented milk solids. It is great with crisp white wine, but when I was in Alto-Adige for Speckfest (smoked prosciutto festival) the focus was beer. Find a good German or Austrian lager and some Speck and experience Italy at its German best.