ALESSANDRO CARPENEDO: Honoring His Father’s Creative Cheese Vision

ALESSANDRO CARPENEDO: Honoring His Father’s Creative Cheese Vision

After his father created Italy’s first refinement laboratory and cheese aged in wine and marc, he helped put La Casearia Carpenedo on a world stage.

Photos by Gianfranco Cimarosti

Alessandro Carpenedo was born with the food business in his blood thanks to his grandfather Ernesto, who ran a grocery store. But it was his father Antonio who steered him into the cheese business.

Antonio’s journey as a dairyman began in the 1960s, after he took over a small dairy in Rovarè di San Biagio in the province of Treviso. He learned to make cheese by himself and, in 1965, was one of the first to export the “Casata Carpenedo”, today known as Casatella Trevigiana Dop, outside the province of Treviso and subsequently in Emilia Romagna, Lombardy and Piedmont.

His business evolved exponentially since then after his son Alessandro joined the company to become a one-of-a-kind cheese aging and refinery operation.

Cheese Connoisseur takes you on Alessandro Carpenedo’s journey, which includes the unique evolution of his family’s company La Casearia Carpenedo, an Italian treasure.

CC: Although your family’s involvement in the food industry goes way back, that wasn’t your initial path. How did you come into cheese?

A.C.: I was born in 1977, and because my father was a dairy developer, I was born in the dairy production world. When I was a child, I went to the dairy often to taste pieces of the curd, which typically isn’t good, but as a child, I liked it. I remember going to the store when I was young and seeing all different kinds of cheeses. I would take pieces of broken Parmigiano Reggiano to eat. Cheese has always been in my life. After high school, I went to a school for tourism that was not connected with the dairy business. My idea was to travel and work in the tourism field, visiting many places around the world. I loved to learn about different cultures and meet people. After school, I had the opportunity to work with an important agency.

A month later, my father asked me to work with him in the family cheese making business because I could speak English. He wanted my brother Ernesto and I to develop the export side. It was a difficult decision for me, because I had started a specific job in tourism. I had to decide whether to continue my career or go another way. My thought was mostly to respect what my father was looking for, since he needed my support. So I decided to leave my tourism job and help my father in the dairy and warehouse. I didn’t start in the office, but instead at the bottom, driving a tractor to bring product to small shops around the city. This was in 1997, when I was able to attend Cheese!, the big festival in Bra. It was at this exhibition that I had the opportunity to meet our first American importer, Cheeseworks, which was one of the best American companies importing cheese into the U.S. at that time.

My first time in New York City was at the 1999 Fancy Food Show. I brought a wheel of cheese with me in my baggage that was barrel aged with herbs and hay called Summer Wind. From that show, we developed an interest in marketing our cheeses in the U.S. We started with this cheese, along with another line made with prosecco. Now, 20 years later, we market our product in 30 countries around the world, including Europe and Asia and do a lot of business in Japan. We have connections with Australia, and Taiwan is a new market for us.

CC: The company has undergone changes over the years. How has La Casearia Carpenedo evolved?

A.C.: We are actually still producing cheese. We follow the entire production chain from milk through the aging of the cheese to finish the cycle and the transformation process with additional ingredients, such as grape marc, herbs, spices and others. The cheesemaking part is carried out at our exclusive partners’ facilities. In regards to the seasoning and processing, this is carried out at our site in Camalò in the province of Treviso.

The first quality of the cheese comes from the milk and the production techniques, but we provide the real difference in taste with the seasoning and even more in the final refermentation process, a very particular and articulated technique that we were the first to develope after many years of research and development.

CC: Talk about your most memorable moments on the job.

I don’t sell cheese but I sell emotions. When people try our cheese, I always look at their reactions. It’s in their eyes. The ‘wow’ effect is so satisfying.

CC: How did your Ubriaco cheese, one of your signatures, come about?

A.C.: In 1976, we started our fermentation line with Ubriaco cheese. Since then, it has become popular in all parts of the world. It began when my father rediscovered an ancient tradition preserved by the farmers of the Piave area of putting the cheese under the pomace during the harvest. It’s from a tradition that seems to have originated in the First World War when, to preserve the cheeses from hostile raids, the peasants had the idea of hiding them under the fermenting marcs. This is when my father produced Ubriaco, the first forms of cheese aged in wine and marc.

This also was when the company was transformed into the first refinement laboratory recognized in Italy. From the use of the pomace, it passes to the experimentation of new ingredients like hay, walnut leaves, pepper, spices, beer, liqueurs and many others.

CC: Talk about Blu 61, how was it created and what makes it special.

A.C.: This is another important moment in our company, because we started to develop blue cheeses on a completely different level than usual. We began in 2008 with Basajo. This was aged in sweet white wine with raisins. We had a great process from the start. It wasn’t specifically until 2011 that we created Blu 61, and it became an icon of our company for different reasons. It was mostly due to the taste of the cheese, which is amazing. It gets a different reaction than normal. Blue cheese is traditionally heavy and salty, but this line has the freshness of fruit and a sweetness from wine and bloomy veins. It’s absolutely fantastic.

Blu 61 became very popular due to the story behind it. It was my father’s idea in 2011 to celebrate his 50th anniversary with my mom. He asked me to find a better presentation for this cheese. The idea was to have a cheese that can be like a cake, and when you see it close up, the full wheel is very much cake like. Wine gives it a red color, and it’s covered by cranberries normally used for cakes. My father was looking for something to put in the rind, and thanks to my trips to Canada, I discovered cranberries. I thought they’d make a great cheese topping, and so this is what we chose to complete the presentation.

In 2012, Blu 61 won the gold medal in the marbled category at the Alma Caseus competition, organized by the International School of Italian Cuisine and led by Gualtiero Marchesi. In the same year, it was included in the assortment of the prestigious Harrods shop in London. Since then, this cheese has won two medals at the World Cheese Awards in 2014 and 2017.

CC: How does the company’s location and environment impact your cheeses?

A.C.: We are located in northeast Italy in an area of hills called Montello. It’s a very rocky area, especially if you go underground or excavate. When it rains a lot, the water goes behind the stones, as there are underground rivers and lakes as well as caves in this area. This is a good place for us, as the cave in our facilities is underground and surrounded by rocks to provide the perfect humidity and ambiance for aging. It’s a special place for our cheese.

CC: Talk about the importance of cheese making and tradition.

A.C.: When I was a child and my classmates asked what my dad did, and I said he made cheese, they looked poorly upon that as an unimportant job. I don’t understand why, because behind cheese there is a lot of history and culture. It’s a product that gives us the opportunity to grow and preserve milk. I think probably one of the most important things we can do in this industry is educate people about this. We need to give them a story around cheese production and the effort we put forth to create great quality cheese. That is a challenge, as is bringing up the quality and level of knowledge. When I started making the first commercial cheese my first year, I wanted to do something more. Because milk, salt and rennet are the only ingredients that cheese producers give to customers, I always try to add something to the story. This is why our aging and fermentation processes are so integral to our cheeses and set them apart.

CC: What would you say is your most memorable moment on the job?

A.C.: Something very memorable for me was when I brought my first cheese to the U.S. in 1999. Another memorable moment was two years later, back in America, when I saw my product on the shelves of New York City stores. I was so excited! This is my cheese made in Italy that I produced, delivered and now is in New York City! It was and is still very exciting for me.

CC: What are you most proud of?

A.C.: I’m mostly proud of the world tour of my cheese. I sell it in cities all around the world, from San Francisco to Tokyo. I’m proud to be international.

CC: What are your favorite cheeses and why?

A.C.: If I had to choose my favorite at the moment, it is a hard cheese called Vento D’Estate. You can eat the heart of the cheese and have a balsamic sensation due to herbs and organic hay. It has a unique taste. It is a cheese matured under mountain hay. The inspiration for it came in June 1998, during an excursion by my parents in Monte Grappa. On the way back, going down the winding mountain roads, they followed behind a tractor carrying a hay cart that gave off a truly sensational scent. My father convinced the peasant driver to sell him some of this fragrant hay, which became the fundamental ingredient to refine this cheese. And Blue Gin, which is one of our lines, is cheese aged in gin that I created. The idea was to work with a gin producer in Italy. It’s absolutely unique, because you can taste the gin and Blue cheese, yet it’s very well balanced. This is a new way to eat cheese with something different from wine.

CC: Do you have any regrets choosing a career in cheese versus working in tourism?

A.C.: I’m totally happy about my decision, because really I have the opportunity to work with cheese and travel. In my current career, I have the chance to see a lot of new cultures, meet a lot of people and take a world tour. My goal was satisfied. No, I’m not working for a travel agency or tour operator, but I am the tour operator of my cheeses. I can book the reservations for them!

CC: What are your thoughts on the current state of the cheese industry?

A.C.: I think that, in the cheese industry I see a lot of confusion in terms of the names and products. We need to respect the customers by communicating more transparently. We need to give value to all products from all places and communicate more directly with consumers and educate them. Don’t give them information just to sell cheese; they only want to buy a good cheese produced properly.

CC: If you could change anything about the cheese industry today, what would it be?

A.C.: Too often the milk production of a single cow is pushed for more quantity, and this is not the way to respect cows, animals or the world. It’s important to grow animals with natural ingredients. I always try to work with dairies that have a mentality in sustainability. I’m okay to give them more money for better quality and greener practices. There are many dairies that can have different practices with cows, and we pay a little more for the milk.

It’s difficult to accomplish this because all around the world people are focused on price. We need to educate customers that the lowest price isn’t always the best choice for our health.

C.C.: What do you want people to know about specialty cheese?

A.C.: Our products have been developed over three generations and over a lot of time. They need to know, not just about the cheese, but also what’s behind it.

I wish they knew that there are millions of people who wake up early in the morning every morning to acquire good milk and that every day with great passion and enthusiasm there are people who produce good cheese.

There are people like us who every day combine love, creativity and experience to make cheeses unique and to give us the chance to get excited by tasting a cheese!

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Written by Lisa White