Leonardo da Vinci didn’t attend just any old wedding; and when he did, he didn’t bring just any old cheese. How then did the only cheese bestowed upon the 1489 wedding of Isabella of Aragon to Gian Galleazo Sforza by the most influential mind of all time skate so close to extinction by the turn of the last century?
Made of cow’s and sheep’s milk, yeasty and sour in flavor, with notes of mushroom and nuts, montebore was allegedly da Vinci’s favorite cheese. Some believe its festive three-tiered layering format hearkens to wedding cake, while others believe it’s an homage to the tallest tower in the castle of its quaint namesake village in the northwest of Italy. Whatever its origin, this small-town specialty grew to be the go-to cheese in many ravioli, gnocchi, risotto, and pasta dishes, entrenching montebore at the forefront of the Italian cheese-scape for centuries.
After World War II, however, as rural populations deserted the countryside and cheese-making became industrialized, montebore was abandoned. Production in fact flat-lined for 30 years after Carolina Bracco, its last-known producer, shuttered her business. In 1999, however, a young cheesemaker named Roberto Grattone tracked her down and, with the help of the then-nascent Slow Food movement, snatched the once-ubiquitous cheese from the jaws of extinction. From a handful of small producers such as Grattone in the Alessandria province of Italy, montebore has made a formidable regional comeback in the last 20 years. Today, it’s produced in sufficient enough quantity to be enjoyed beyond Italy’s borders, for all your wedding dairy needs.
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Where to Try It
Fiorenzo Giolito sources strictly from local producers and ages the cheese himself in-house, an hour outside of Turin.
Roberto Grattone and his wife, Agata, produce montebore from their farmhouse in Val Borbera.