Stage 17: Gap > Pinerolo

It seems like it taken an aeon but tonight … finally … the “incursion into foreign territory” AND The Alps!  Oh yes!

There’s also some nail-biting time as we watch descents and hope for a safe, accident free stage. Apparently the sun is shining in Pinerolo so that’s something to look forward to at least.  I don’t think any of the sprinters will be looking forward to today’s very lumpy ride. Four summits on the way to over 2,000m, then a long descent of 1500m, one more summit and a downhill finish.  I’m exhausted just writing about it.

Meanwhile though, as the peloton crosses into Italy, so we’ll take a look at the local cow, the Oropa also called the “Pezzata Rossa d’Oropa”. This red pied cow is said to come from Northern European pied cattle dating back to the fifth century Burgundi or Borgognoni, similar to Simmenthal.


Photo: Kranky Kidz

Like the pictured cow, Oropa are red and white, but rarely have any red spots on their faces.  The breed, like many cows we’ve talked about during the tour, have been under threat by more recently developed mixed breeds said to improve either dairy of meat quality. The farmers who work this area of the alps protected the Oropa cows as they fared better on rough ground in harsh conditions high in the alps, and produced moderate amounts of milk, and good meat. It is placed in the “low but steady” population bracket, on a continuum that goes from very rare – rare – low but steady – good population but reducing – high – very high.  This means we might actually catch a glimpse of one; most of the local heroes we’ve discussed during the Tour have been in the very rare and rare brackets.
In 1985 the Registry Office of autochthonous cattle breeds and ethnic groups of limited diffusion was founded, in order to protect those Italian cattle breeds at risk of extinction and to safeguard this genetic heritage. Isn’t that nice?

The milk of the Oropa cow is used to make a couple of notable cheeses the Beddo and the Toma Biellese.   This second cheese is like many of the “Tomme” Alpine cheeses, semi-hard, nutty in flavour and good for melting in fondue… fondue… fondue ….


Toma Biellese



Pinerolo is in Piedmont, so we should also look at the eponymous breed.  There is a healthy population of this beautiful animal in the north of Italy, and its milk is used to produce Castelmagno, Bra, Raschera and Toma Piemontese. How pretty is this cow?


Photo: Aleks (Wikimedia Commons)


Castelmagno is a semi-hard, half-fat cheese produced from whole cows milk, obtained from Piedmont cows fed on fresh forage or hay from mixed meadows or pasture. On occasion some milk from sheep or goats may may be added to the cows’ milk. It’s been produced since the 12th century; there is even evidence it was used as a form of payment during the 13th century (there is a theme appearing here … cheese as currency). Castelmagno has a rind that is thin, smooth and pale reddish-yellow when young that thickens, hardens, wrinkles and turns darker with age. The interior is ivory white when young, turning yellow gold and forming blue veins as it ages.

Bra cheese is named after the town of Bra, south of Turin. The cheese may use either unpasteurized or pasteurized milk and comes in three distinct varieties. Bra tenero, a tender or soft version, is aged up to six months, bra duro, a hard version, is aged one to two years or longer, and bra d’alpeggio can be made only from cows that graze in mountain pastures from June to October. Rinds can be off-white, thin and elastic to brownish beige and hard, while interiors range from off-white to dark yellow-orange and are compact with small eyes.

The Slow Food World Festival of Cheese is held bi-annually in Bra.

Mountain pastures are important for alpine cheeses, the difference in summer and winter milk, the difference in morning and afternoon milk – all make a huge difference to the cheeses produced.  It’s really heartening to read that many of the cows that are best adapted to this lifestyle are being saved by a broader enjoyment of their cheese.



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  1. Pingback: Stage 18: Pinerolo > Galibier - Serre Chevalier | Les Vaches du Tour

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