True Fontina, a supple raw milk cheese, is crafted exclusively in the Valle d'Aosta in the far northwest corner of Italy. It can delight the palate with flavors evocative of honey at room temperature and of truffles when melted. Though cheese factories in the area produce it year-round, the finest Fontina is made in mountain chalets exclusively during the summer months.
The cheese's thin, light brown rind is often marbled with terra-cotta or yellow, and is usually lightly oiled. The straw-colored interior is speckled with small round holes. Wheels of Fontina weigh anywhere from 8 to 18 kilograms, and are ripened for three months.
Italian cheese and wine makers are protected by their Denominazione di Origine Controllata, much in the same way that French cheese and wine makers are protected by their Appellation d'Origine Controlée designations. Two dozen or so Italian cheeses are regulated by the DOC; Fontina is one of them. Cheese produced in Italy labelled "Fontina" must meet the requirements set by the DOC. "Fontina" made elsewhere is not really Fontina cheese, but is just a cheesy imitation.