It was at an open-air market stall early one morning in Venice that I first discovered ubriaco or drunken cheese. I fell in love with the notion even before tasting it.
“DRUNKEN CHEESE”, said the sign in English pinned to a hard, white cheese with a deep burgundy-coloured rind and veins. It immediately piqued my interest. The vendor told me, “Ubriaco means drunk-a in Italian,” before handing me a small, crumbly wedge to try. It was soft and fresh, and tasted sublime, with a hint of red wine in the thunderbolt-shaped lines on the inside.
The story of the cheese gushed forth like the Arno river from the arches of the Ponte Vecchio bridge steps away. “In the War, the first World War,” he said, “soldiers from Austria and Hungary raided farms in the Treviso area not far from here. They were hungry, and they took everything they could carry away—loaves of bread, bottles of wine, chunks of cheese, fruits, vegetables, anything. One day, a cheese maker heard them coming and slipped a wheel of cow’s cheese into an open barrel of red wine to hide it. It sank to the bottom and the soldiers missed it. The next day, when the farmer pulled it out, the dark wine had covered it and slipped into the cracks. He tasted it. It was wonderful. Allora! Our ubriaco cheese came to be!”
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