It is a very simple dish, of poor origins, achievable with basic but definitely high-calorie ingredients. A pleasure for the greediest palates but to be enjoyed sparingly considering the riot of fats.
The dish is typical of the area of Oropa, where even today you can taste the best polenta tanning of the entire Biella area.
After the war, polenta was certainly more common than bread (reserved for the few families who could afford it) and was used practically as “jolly”: poor dish par excellence, could not miss in the kitchens of medium Biella the pot ready to receive the flour of corn mixed with boiling water.
In Oropa, a mountain area and alpine huts, there was a particular abundance of cheese and butter produced by most families. Hence the idea of dipping the fat cow’s cheese (maybe even the leftovers or the crusts) directly into the hot polenta, to be then seasoned with the melted butter.
A “rich” dish, in a figurative sense given the recovery ingredients used originally, but ideal for countering the winter stiffness of the Oropa area and providing sufficient calories to the inhabitants for their work.
Here is the recipe: (doses for 4 people)
350 g of corn flour
1 liter of water
2 ½ of a short / medium seasoned Oropa toma
1 pound of maccagno (cheese from biellese territory)
1 oz of artisanal butter
Salt to taste.
Toma di Oropa: the ideal would be to use a toma coming from Oropa, of short or medium seasoning. The less seasoned cheese, besides having a greater ability to melt thanks to a higher percentage of water, transmits to the polenta a taste and a less aggressive flavor compared to a more seasoned toma, a taste that may not be appreciated by everyone.
Maccagno: maccagno is not a cheese originally from Oropa but more precisely from Alpe Maccagno, in Val Vogna (Vercelli). It is therefore difficult to think that it was originally an ingredient in Oropa’s polenta. Today, however, maccagno is still produced throughout the Biella area, following (hopefully) what is reported in the production regulations for the PDO of maccagno.
Depending on the conditions, the maccagno must be produced only with cow’s milk, “Pezzata Rossa d’Oropa, Bruna or their half-breed”; this cheese can therefore be considered a sort of “adopted child” of Oropa and the use in the preparation of polenta tanning from Biella di Oropa can, in my opinion, be considered legitimate. Also in this case it is better to prefer a short or medium seasoning maccagno.
Among the local brands, we can certainly point out the maccagno of the Caseificio Rosso di Pollone. There are two variations, the Maccagno Riserva, tastier and matured, and the Maccagno Latte Crudo, probably the most suitable for the recipe of polenta tanning from Biella.
Butter: artisan of course. Remember that it will be the butter that gives a good part of the flavor to your polenta.It saves a tasty and sufficiently incisive butter.
Paiolo for polenta: the indispensable tool for making polenta tanning is without a doubt the good old cauldron for polenta.
Traditionally made of copper only, it is also possible to use equivalents such as tall casseroles in tinned copper. Remember that copper requires careful maintenance to prevent oxidation.
Copper is an excellent conductor of heat, therefore perfect for a uniform cooking of polenta. Online it is possible to buy different poles perfect for polenta, including versions for the “lazy” users, the pot with electric mixer. You will not have to spend the cooking time constantly stirring but it will be electricity for you.
If you do not have a cauldron (and / or you do not want to buy it), a tall saucepan can fit.
Kitchen whisk: the second accessory – essential for those who do not use an electric mixer – is definitely the kitchen whisk (or manual beater). It is an indispensable accessory in the initial phase of cooking, when you dip the corn flour inside the hot water.
It will be necessary to mix vigorously and the use of the kitchen whisk will help you to prevent the formation of lumps of corn flour that could form in contact with water. Better a stainless steel whisk, light but effective.
Below is another link to kitchen whips for sale online.
If you do not own a whisk, you can use the classic wooden spoon, taking care to add the flour very slowly to prevent lumps.
Preparation of Polenta Concia di Oropa
The preparation is simple: boil the water in the pot, previously salted. Once you have reached the boil, throw the flour into the water, stirring vigorously with the whisk to prevent lumps from forming and that the polenta remains uniform.
Once the consistency of the mixture is assured, cooking continues, while maintaining the polenta not too thick, but still quite fluid and creamy. In the event that the polenta should thicken, the advice is to add a little boiling water taste to dilute. Continue cooking the polenta for about 50 minutes.
When the polenta is almost ready, it will be possible to add the toma and the maccagno, previously cut into thin strips or small pieces. You will continue to stir for another 10 minutes, until the cheese is completely melted with polenta, creating a creamy, fluid and velvety mixture.
Here’s the time to cook the butter in a saucepan. In this case, you decide how much butter is browned. Someone adores the blackened, burnt butter, though it is heavier to digest; others prefer butter simply melted, not too burned. It is to taste, as well as some people add sage with butter and some pepper. Everyone can combine the tastes he prefers.
At this point you just have to remove the polenta from the heat, serve it in hot plates and add the desired amount of butter to each dish.
Cover Photo: Oropa Sanctuary in winter (www.atl.biella.it)
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