Respect for animals and the environment: the cheeses we love

13 March 2020

One company in the north of Italy, another in the south. The first is dedicated to cow’s milk cheeses, taking its milk from the last cow stables left in the area, while the second makes goat’s milk cheeses with milk from their own animals.

Both will be present at Terra Madre Salone del Gusto 2020. And both work with the same aim: to produce excellent natural cheeses with respect for the animals and the environment that make them possible.

A FARM THAT BUCKS THE TREND

In Puglia, there’s been a progressive decline in the number of goats raised in favor of dairy cows, which are more productive and whose products are generally in higher demand. But some producers are going against the prevailing trend, and one group of young farmers has established a goat farm: a courageous choice, inspired by a desire to restore value to the noble goat’s milk.

Yet when you work well, and with passion, even the most audacious choices are rewarding. Just take a look at Il Carro in Putignano, at the beginning of the Itria Valley, which today manages the largest herd of goats in southern Italy, with over a thousand animals, all raised exclusively on organic forage from their own fields.

Antonio Mirabile explains: “As we have lots of land that’s been cultivated organically for many years, we thought it would be good to join forces in order to start something new, but keeping respect for traditions. It’s a model, modern farm. We’ve started an adventure here: a goat farm where the animals provide milk and cheeses of the highest quality.”

The project started with the aim of establishing a short supply chain that could provide cheeses which are suitable for all, even those who are intolerant to cow’s milk. Antonio explains that this choice was made out of respect both for the product and for people. One possible alternative could be to use a chemical process to eliminate lactose from cow’s milk (delactosed milk), but this process is already widespread in the industrial dairy sector.

FROM THE FARM TO THE DAIRY

Today, thanks to the Saanen and Chamois Colored goats raised by Il Carro, cheeses are produced from their milk at Caseificio Artigiana – owned by the same family –  and sold around Italy.

The dairy is also working to train young cheesemakers, either for direct employment or to empower them to open their own independent dairies and give an even greater added value to the local area.

In short, it’s a love story, one which is told even in the names of the cheeses: “Amore di capra is a creamy robiola with a slightly acidic taste, which we make via the natural acidification of the milk, which is drained in linen cloths for three days; Capra di Puglia is a soft caciotta cheese with a sweet, perfumed flavor, while A’Ninetta is a soft cheese with a flowered rind, a hint of hazelnut and an unmatched freshness.”

This is the way Antonio describes them, though he’s quick to invite me to come and taste them for myself at the Market of Terra Madre Salone del Gusto to truly appreciate the richness of the product. We extend the invite to all of you, of course! In Antonio’s words: “One of the greatest satisfactions of my work is the look on people’s faces when they taste our cheeses.”

THE RECOVERY OF A CHEESE WITH A THOUSAND NAMES

In the north of Italy, just 40 kilometers outside Genoa in the mountains of the Ligurian Apennines, we find the historical homeland of San Stè, a raw, whole cow’s milk cheese which traditionally had as many names as the number of families that produced it, all spread along the Aveto Valley. Once upon a time, this cheese was the most important economic resource of the area.

These families, each having just a few cows, helped each other to milk the animals and took turns to process it. That was until, as so often happens, the tradition was almost completely lost: over time the farmers began to prefer simply selling their milk, and so the San Stè cheese became almost impossible to find in its place of origin.

Fast forward to 1991, when six friends decided to found the Caseificio Val D’Aveto (Aveto Valley Dairy) with the aim of relaunching raw milk San Stè and safeguarding the gastronomic identity of this area, which had always based on the collective production of cheese.

This process of recovery has involved renovating the last animal stables left in the local area – today, they have one large stable and 24 mini-stables – all working to ensure the sensory profile of their mountains is preserved in the milk of around 300 Alpine Brown and Dappled Red cows: two breeds that, though they’re not native to the area, are by now perfectly adapted to the land. The milk from the Aveto and Trebbia valleys is then processed in the dairy.

BEYOND TRADITION

After saving the traditional production techniques and reviving the local supply chain of the Aveto valley, the tireless cheesemakers have decided to innovate, adding another 10 cheeses to their roster, from fresh to mature varieties, and even a strained (Greek-style) yogurt.

Silvio Cella, one of the founders of the dairy, explains with pride that they are “the last producers around making strained yogurt, because it’s a slow and difficult process that delivers less quantity but much more quality. Many producers use a centrifuge to thicken the yogurt but it’s not the same thing. We strain it for 16 to 18 hours to make a genuine product which thickens naturally, without adding whole milk or ferments. Like the Greeks used to make it.”

Come and discover all these marvelous cheeses and more at the Market of Terra Madre Salone del Gusto!

by Desirée Colacino, d.coalcino@slowfood.it

GUIDELINES FOR EXHIBITORS: MILK, CHEESE AND DAIRY PRODUCTS

In all our events, Slow Food chooses exhibitors for the Market who are ambassadors for the philosophy of good, clean and fair, and for our international campaigns; the selection process is described in this guideline document, a constantly-evolving tool which has the twin objectives of being useful for producers and in line with the principles of the movement.

• The animals’ diet must be GMO-free.

• Cheeses and dairy products must be made from milk from farms with high animal welfare standards.

• Cheeses and dairy products must be made from milk produced by the company or bought locally from farms that participate in supply chain projects.

• All cheeses must be made from raw milk.

• Cheeses must be made using animal or plant rennet.

• Cheeses that have undergone chemical treatments of the rind or smoking with liquid smoke cannot be sold. Traditional treatments (tomato, wax, paraffin, oil, grappa, charcoal, ash, etc.) are allowed.

• Products containing artificial preservatives, additives and chemical colorings cannot be sold.

• Products flavored with artificial flavorings (for example truffle flavoring) cannot be sold.

• Products made from the milk of animals whose diet is primarily pasture-based, or at least with a high percentage of grass/hay, will be given priority.

• Companies that produce cheese without the use of artificial chemical starter cultures will be given priority. Priority will be given to producers of cheeses made without starter cultures, followed by those who produce cheeses with self-produced starters (milk starter, whey starter).

• Companies that produce cheeses using milk from local breeds will be given priority.