This cheese could be considered the meeting point between southern dairy culture and the Po valley environment. In the south of Italy, stretched-curd cheeses like mozzarella, caciocavallo and provola have been made for centuries. They are called stretched-curd cheeses because of the special technique used for warming the milk to produce a curd, which is then literally “stretched”. The process, once done exclusively by hand, gives the cheese its typical thread-like consistency. The climate and geography of the south of Italy made for a short life for milk, quick to deteriorate and a challenge to transport. Accordingly, stretched-curd cheeses were kept small and, after the ripening period, were almost exclusively used for grating.
Provolone Valpadana was first produced by some dairy farmers in the second half of the nineteenth century after Italy was united, most of whom had emigrated from Lucania and Campania in the south to settle in the main cattle farming areas of the Po valley in the north. They not only found that cow’s milk was widely available in Lombardy and Emilia for their stretched-curd technique, but that the climate was also propitious. Such conditions meant the farmers could make bigger cheeses, with a completely different quality.