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The birthplace of Gorgonzola. Maybe.

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Ever since someone told me a few years ago that there is a town in northern Italy named Gorgonzola, and that the townspeople, the Gorgonzolesi, claim that their ancestors created the famous cheese of the same name, I have wanted to go there to find out if the proof is in the pudding - or in this case, the curd.

In short, is the Gorgonzola in Gorgonzola really better?

I got my opportunity to find out last September. We arrived there on the second day of the town's autumn fair. The annual three-day festival celebrates the history and development of the rich, creamy cheese.

Meeting us at the metro station, after our half-hour ride from our homebase in downtown Milan, was Enzo Casanova. A friend of a friend, he and his family live in an adjoining town, and he offered to give us an aficionado's tour of Gorgonzola.

I confess I was licking my lips in anticipation of the taste tour that I was sure was awaiting us.

This was the moment I learned that no Gorgonzola is made in Gorgonzola anymore. One reason, Enzo pointed out, is that the town has been absorbed into the greater Milan metropolitan area and is no longer the big farming area it once was. Instead it's a bedroom community for commuters.

The major cheese producers are now in nearby towns and provinces, and one, Pasturo, even claims that it, rather than Gorgonzola, is the birthplace of the pungent cheese.

One thing Gorgonzola is not relinquishing, however, is its assertion that it is the place to come if you want to see where the namesake cheese was first created. The annual festival is a loud declaration of this.

The Sagra Nazionale del Gorgonzola (sagra means festival) takes over the center of the small village. The hub of the celebration is on Via Italia, the town's short main street.

For the first half hour, we wandered along this street, happily accepting free samples of Gorgonzola dolce and Gorgonzola piquant, served melted or at room temperature on bite-size chunks of bread.


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