I like to imagine storing an 18-pound wheel of raw-milk Fontina Valle d'Aosta in the cellar to get me through the winter. This full-fat cheese's golden-red exterior is salt-rubbed for the first three months of aging to aid the rind development. The resulting thin, mottled rind adds a full, pungent aroma to the robust cheese, whose long finish tastes of sweet butter with savoury notes of nuts, fruit, mushrooms and earth.
Fontina's recipe is said to date back to the Middle Ages and, depending on ripening time, the buttery, yellow cheese will be semi-soft to semi-firm, its paste supple and smooth, sometimes with a scattering of small holes (eyes). Though you will find other cheeses named "Fontina," the only authentic wheels (and by far most magnificent in terms of flavour) come from the Valle d'Aosta region in the Italian Alps, close to the French and Swiss borders.
Fontina is made all year but the best cheeses will come from the summer milk when the cows are grazing on Alpine grasses. It's then aged between three and seven months, which makes now the perfect time to find an older wheel. Ideal for melting or sandwiches, you can't go wrong just eating Fontina Valle D'Aosta on its own, eyes closed, dreaming of summer pastures and sighing happily.
Sue Riedl blogs about cheese and other edibles at cheeseandtoast.com.