Drunken Cheese - Gastro Obscura
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Drunken Cheese

The aging process of this formaggio begins in a barrel of wine.

Wine and cheese is a classic pairing. But the people of Treviso, in northeast Italy, take the concept one step further with formaggio ubriaco, literally “drunken cheese,” which is soaked in red wine or crushed grapes.

What’s now considered a beloved dairy tradition is believed to have its roots in a savvy strategy to protect cheese during World War I. In 1917, the Austrian army broke into northeast Italy after winning the Battle of Caporetto. Austrian soldiers looted local homes for food, but, ingeniously, residents of Treviso and the surrounding area hid their cheese in barrels filled with wine pomace—the remains of the grapes used in winemaking. When the raids ended, Treviagianis recovered the hidden blocks of cheese and stumbled upon a gastronomical innovation: The cheese sported a thick purple crust and had a distinct, pleasant wine flavor.

There are competing origin stories: Some say it was the accidental discovery of preserving the cheese with pomace, or a farmer hiding his cheese from a landlord. What’s not up for debate is the quality of Veneto’s most unique cheese.

Today, “drunken cheese” is produced following the same procedure. Local cheese, mostly Montasio, an amber-colored cheese made of unpasteurized cow milk, is left inside barrels filled with pomace, raw grape, or even wine as varied as prosecco. Once ready, the “ombriaco” takes on heavy wine notes and develops its distinctive purple crust. Locals mostly eat it with bread or cold cuts, or add it to dishes such as risotto.

For decades, “l’ombriaco” has been a sort of hidden delicacy. But in recent years, partly thanks to the establishment of the “wine route,” a road tour of the towns that dot the rolling hills of Treviso’s surroundings, it has started to claim its rightful place on the list of iconic foods from Veneto.

Need to Know

The best season to try drunken cheese is from late fall through early summer.

Where to Try It
  • Family run for four generations, this shop-bistro is considered a gastronomical institution. Sip wine while sampling the "cheese bar," or look for their drunken cheese-themed dinners featuring the cheese and recipes such as drunken-cheese crème-brûlée. For more information, contact the shop at per@perenzin.com.

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