Biggest cheese ever? I would have nominated the 400-pound Crucolo, a cow’s-milk giant from Northern Italy. I’ve never seen it but maybe you have. This massive mamma steals the stage every December when the owner of a Concord, Massachusetts, shop parades it through the streets. (Watch the video below; it's a hoot.) A wheel is coming to the West Coast next week, so more of us can see what a cheese that weighs as much as two large men looks like. But, alas, it’s not the world’s biggest.
The Purin family, makers of Crucolo, have welcomed weary travelers in the Italian Alps since 1782. They have been innkeepers since the days when cowherds would lead their cows into the mountains every spring for fresh grass, a vanishing tradition, and they rebuilt their scenic rest stop, or rifugio, after it was destroyed in World War I. Today the Rifugio Crucolo is a mountain restaurant and retail shop where the family sells its own salumi and cheese.
About a decade ago, an American importer learned about the family, loved their story and began importing Crucolo in its usual 30-pound size. (That's what's pictured above.) One customer, the Concord Cheese Shop, was soon re-ordering so often that a Purin family member called and asked if the shop wanted a bigger wheel.
“What’s the largest you have?” asked Peter Lovis, the shop owner. Weeks later, when the behemoth arrived, Lovis’s publicity gene kicked in. He laid a red carpet from the truck’s ramp to the shop and rolled the four-foot-tall, 400-pound wheel down Concord’s main street, with a helper scattering rose petals in its path. A crowd gathered, of course, and the cheese sold out in three weeks. Now the annual arrival of the 400-pound Crucolo is the excuse for a goofy civic parade, with the cheese in a horse-drawn carriage, proclamations, a brass band and Lovis’s daughter as Miss Crucolo USA. The event drew 1,700 people last year and gets international press coverage. The shop now buys two of the gargantuan wheels in early December and sells out by New Year’s.
“We get people year-round asking for the cheese that you roll down the street,” says Lovis, who abandoned the street-rolling for the carriage ride a few years ago so more spectators could see. The shop carries the 30-pound wheels all year. “Everybody likes it,” says the cheesemonger. “It’s not really strong, not really smelly, kind of the texture of Havarti but with a bite in the finish. And it’s a wonderful melting cheese. The fondue at the Rifugio is unbelievable.”
Devis Anderle, a member of the Purin family, told me via e-mail that his grandfather got the idea for the over-sized Crucolo in 1994. The family had earned a Guinness World Record for the longest salame (45 meters); why not try with cheese? Their largest to date weighed 600 kilos (1,300 pounds) but still nothing from Guinness.
The 400-pounders are aged for four to five months and are a little spicier than the regular wheels, says Anderle. I have only tasted a 30-pounder, which had a buttery aroma and flavor and a moist, open, tender texture. The recipe is similar to Asiago, says Anderle, but the family’s maturing methods confer Crucolo’s signature taste.
On Friday, April 6, Market Hall Foods in Oakland will have its own Crucolo parade. Festivities begin at 4 p.m. on the Shafter Street side of the store. Watch employees hoist and cut into a 400-pounder and enjoy a sample.
Cheese Class: Meet the Best Newcomers
Thursday, April 19
Trefethen Family Vineyards
1160 Oak Knoll Aveune,
Napa, CA 94558
5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m
Join me for “Best Newcomers,” a class devoted to impressive American cheeses that didn’t exist five years ago—all of them destined for glory. Some are from veteran cheesemakers, others from newcomers—but all are cheeses you need to know! Only a few seats remain, so don't delay. The series continues at Trefethen Vineyards monthly through September, with different themes every time. See the complete "World Cheese Tour" schedule here.