Natural cheese: grass, breeds, and raw milk without ferments

11 August 2020

In terms of “natural” foods it’s natural cheese that we’ve talked about most often, partly thanks to our event dedicated to them: Cheese!

In the last two editions of Cheese we’ve tried to describe all the aspects of a natural cheese, and the synthesis that we’ve arrived at is a poetic, almost mathematical formula: natural cheese is made of the grass of pastures, local animal breeds, raw and without industrial ferments.

If these parameters are respected, we should have a natural cheese that – as the name indicates – reflects nature. A nature where it isn’t always sunny, and it isn’t always cloudy. A nature that has its own cycle, its own life, its surprises both good and bad. In other words, making natural cheese with raw milk means being able to taste the sunrise and the sunset of the day the cheese was made.

HISTORY OF A NATURAL CHEESE

A natural cheese starts with mixed meadows characterized by a grassy, nutritious and natural turf and wide range of grasses and flowers, most of them belonging to the families of poaceae (grasses) and fabaceae (beans), as well as asteraceae (daisies), apiaceae (carrots), amaranthaceae (amaranth), lamiaceae (mint)…

It continues with local breeds with an established biological relationship in the territory where it lives, evolved over time to adapt to its specific climatic and environmental factors: a healthy relationship which leads to the production of good milk, and therefore, in the right hands: good cheese. It’s not simply about the percentage of fats or proteins it contains, but the aromatic qualities too.

Mountain Pasture Monte Veronese, Slow Food Presidium. A cheese made with just three ingredients: milk, rennet, salt. Photo: Marco Bruzzo | Franco Tanel

It continues with the milk, which is an incredibly precious food, and must be treated with respect: it must be made well, conserved in the right way, not contaminated with dirty tools, and stored properly. In this way the aromatic aspects of the milk are preserved, as well as the useful bacteria which will render the cheese more elaborate and articulate in terms of its aromatic characteristics.

No industrial ferment will be added to to this milk. The cheesemaker who wants to preserve the microbial biodiversity of their milk may use milk-graft or whey-graft, which contain lots of different bacteria – each farm has its own: good or bad, i.e. favorable or not to the process of cheesemaking – and they’re deeply linked to the territory, giving a specific aroma to the cheese. In a a natural process we consider these a positive aspect of the cheese, if the milk has been well cared for, and a negative aspect if the milk has been mistreated.

THE TASTE WORKSHOP

Regarding natural cheeses at Terra Madre Salone del Gusto we’re organizing one of our Taste Workshops at Eataly in Turin, for those who are able to attend.

Vezzena, Slow Food Presidium. Photo: Valerie Ganio Vecchiolino

The variety on offer is rich, because we’re lining up some of the most notable Slow Food Presidia:

  • Bagolino Bagòss from Lombardy: large forms, saffron added as the rennet is broken, with a crust of raw linseed oil.
  • Mountain Pasture Monte Veronese from Veneto is made with the milk of different milkings and available both fresh or aged.
  • Vezzena from Trentino Alto Adige, which even after long aging periods preserves an exceptional buttery smoothness.
  • The Ragusano cheese (Ark of Taste) of the Modicana Cow in Sicily, the famous ‘ingot of the Hyblaean Mountains’ with its parallelepiped shape and intense golden rind when it is well aged.
  • Basilicata Cacaiocavallo Podolico, which is made using a technique known as “stretched-curd” that has been developed and perfected over the centuries in South Italy in order to preserve cows’ milk.

A journey to discover the finest notes that the pastures of Italy have to offer: the elements are all here!

by Silvia Ceriani, s.ceriani@slowfood.it

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