The Milky Way

The cheese from Virgil to nowadays

Grana Padano

The milk trail

Cheese from Virgil to the present day

Titiro "However you could rest here with me tonight On green leaves, we have ripe fruit, Water chestnuts and plenty of cheese. And the chimneys of the cottages are smoking from afar, And bigger shadows fall from the high mountains.". (from Virgil`s Bucolics - 1st Eclogue)

Virgil, the most famous Mantuan poet, wrote that cheese was a delicious food everyone could offer his friends. At that time, milk came from sheep and goats and the Roman legionaries were fed with a small quantity of `Pecorino` cheese. Later the Greeks named it `formos` from the name of the container, a wicker basket, used to turn the curdled milk into cheese. Other words are the Italian `formaggio` and the French `fromage`. According to Greek mythology, also Jupiter had been nursed by a goat and the Greeks thought cheese was given to the glorious athletes, during the Olympic games, for them to get physical strength, and reserved to few chosen people.

We know that large quantities of cheese were produced in Europe between the XIVth and XVIth centuries, above all, thanks to the precious work of the monks who made high quality cheese in their abbey, especially in Italy and in France. As far as we know, in the Mantuan territory the monks who lived in the Polirone Monastery, situated in S.Benedetto Po, to the south of Mantua, made butter and cheese; the latter was made and preserved in a place called `casaria`. In the XIth century the monks of the Cistercian abbey in Chiaravalle, near Milan, adopted a new method of making cheese which was later called Grana Padano.

Perhaps there were 2 different types of cheese, one was made by the poor families as a protein supply to be preserved for a long time, the other was of better quality and made to be eaten on the tables of the princes.

The Gonzagas used to eat a lot of cheese every day. They also bartered it or gave it as a present to other people. In the XVth century cattle was raised on an estate that belonged to the Gonzagas, for the production of milk.

Isabella D`Este wrote about this kind of cheese which took up to 3 years to mature. Perhaps it was the `ancestor` of Grana Padano`. Other kinds were: `tomini, robiole, povine, marzolini, piasentini`.

This food was often served with vegetables, sometimes with fruit. It is also surprising to know that in Goito there was cow-buffalo rearing that belonged to the Gongagas. Perhaps, was something like mozzarella made at that time?

During the first decades of the XXth century small dairies began to spread in our area. They were run by peasant families who gave a great contribution to the heritage of ancient traditions and rich experience that still exist today Our Province mainly boasts the production of Grana Padano e Parmesan cheese, as well as Provolone Valpadana that is produced in smaller quantities.

They all are PDO (Protected Designation of Origin). Ricotta is a lower quality cheese obtained after cooking whey twice.


can also be made from whey obtained from sheep`s milk, but people in our Province generally eat ricotta from cow`s milk. Tosello is another inferior quality cheese which consists of rubbery strips obtained from cheese trimming. In the past peasant families ate it fresh or melted on light roasted polenta (maize porridge).

Ercole Bentivoglio (1506-1573) greatly extols and celebrates the cheese properties in one of his `Poetries`, Paris 1719. In `Praise to the cheese` he wrote that cheese helped to improve man`s physical strength and that it was one of the main ingredients in cooking various dishes.


It is a dairy product which is obtained from milk cream. The fat percentage must not be lees that 80% and it must have the same ingredients milk is made of. Only common salt, carotene and saffron are allowed to preserve it. Churning is the method followed to get butter from milk: milk cream is strongly shaken in order to separate the fat from the remaining liquid that is eliminated.

In the past churns were made of wood; they could be placed vertically or horizontally and were driven manually. The procedure lasted about half an hour without interruption. Now they have been substituted by modern steel slewing containers.

Its quality and taste depend on the cattle breed and feeding. In some of our dairies also biological butter is made. In this case milk is obtained from cattle reared and fed with products from organic farming where there is no use of pesticides, fertilizers and genetically-modified organism.


Yoghurt or sour milk was introduced into Europe by the Bulgarians in the VIIIth century A.D. but only at the beginning of the last century it began to spread in western countries. Its etymological meaning comes from the Turkish `yogur` (to mix by means of a tool). It is made by injecting bacteria such as Streptococcus thermophilus and Lactobacillus bulgaricus. They are milk enzymes that allow milk fermentation. A good quality yoghurt must contain 2 million milk enzymes per gram.

Yoghurt is rich in vitamin B and, though it contains the same substances we can find in milk, it is more easily digestible thanks to the acidification process that hydrolyses proteins.



Ermes Manerba`s Farm

Owned by Manerba Ermes Via Bosche,34 - Cavriana (MN) Phone: 0376-82212 Main products: mozzarella, stracchino, ricotta, caciotta, caciotta with olives, caciotta with chili, half-ripe cheese Open: Monday - Saturday, from 9 to 12:30 a.m. and from 14:30 to 19:30

Lorenzo Portioli`s Farm

Owned by Portioli Lorenzo Via Viola Sacca, 16 - Pegognaga (MN) Phone: 0376-558642 It is the only certificated biological dairy in the province of Manta where both milk and cheese are produced. Main products: biological Parmesan cheese, butter, ricotta and caciotta. Open: Monday - Saturday from 8 to12 a.m. and from 16 to 19. Sunday open only in morning.

Falconara Farm

Owned by Cesare Prandi Via Torre d`Oglio, 4 - Cesole di Marcaria (MN) Phone: 0376-96915 All the products are obtained from whole milk, without added preservatives. Main products: soft cheese ( ricotta, different ripening caciotta), plastic curd cheese (provolone, mozzarella), as well as a very good handmade yoghurt preserved in half a chilo jars. Open: Tuesday - Sunday from 8:30 to 12:30 a.m. and from 15:30 to 19:30

Boaria Bassa Farm

Owned by Giacomo Bondavalli Via Don Bertoldi, 18 - Castel d`Ario (MN) Phone: 0376-664479 The farm produces and sells milk and various types of cheese: plastic curd cheese (mozzarella, scamorza), soft cheese (stracchino, sweet caciotta, caciotta with herbs and with yoghurt, taleggio, ripening robiola, italico, sweet and spicy canestrato, with black, pepper) as well as low-fat cheese, ricotta, ricotta with olives, ricotta with capers. Open: Monday - Sunday afternoon from 15:30 to 20. Saturday and Sunday morning from 9 to 12

F.lli De Cao Farm

Owned by Giuseppe De Cao Via Brasiglia, 325 - Borgoforte (MN) Phone: 0376-648090 Production of Grana Padano, butter and little caciotta. Open: Tuesday - Saturday from 8 to 12:30 a.m. and from 15:30 to 19:30

Giorgio Lorenzi`s Farm

Via Bezzetti, 20 - Volta Mantovana (MN) Phone: 0376-801453 Main products: caciotta, taleggio, stracchino,ricotta without added enzymes, and, if needed, with enzymes made on the farm. Open: Monday - Sunday, from 8 to 12 a.m. and from 15 to 20

Fattoria Cà Rossa di Pasquali Luigi Via S.S. 249 nord 5/2 - Roverbella (Mn) Phone: 0376-694665


  • The cheese
  • Virgilio and the cheese
  • Dairy cows
  • The Cheese