Present for centuries in Sicily, the Modicana is a breed of cattle with a characteristic red coat, with nuances from vinous to black (especially in males).
The debate about its arrival on the island is still unresolved: according to some it arrived from the Mediterranean, according to others from continental Europe, following Normans and Angevins. In any case, it has always been bred: practically since Sicily was populated.
Its decline is linked to the introduction of mechanical means, to the low yield of milk (3000 liters per year) and to the slaughterhouse (less than 55%) and to the fact that many companies stopped directly transforming milk into cheese. Thus, if in the 1960’s there were still 25 thousand head of Modicana, today there are only 2000, which become 650 if only the animals bred in the cradle of origin are taken into consideration: the County of Modica, from which the breed takes its name.
Nevertheless, the Modicana has been considered one of the best cattle breeds with a triple attitude (in the past it was particularly appreciated for its work efficiency) and it is extremely rustic: it can survive the torrid Mediterranean summers, feeding mainly on pasture (with an integration in the barn in the periods when this is scarce).
She is free to graze all year round and is only housed for milking: like all wild cows, she gives milk only if her calf is by her side.
The milk is an extraordinary one: ideal raw material for Ragusano, one of the most valuable Sicilian cheeses. It could be defined as the ingot of the Iblei, due to its parallelepiped shape and intensely golden rind when it has matured: the cheesemaker must have great physical strength and at the same time a goldsmith’s touch to shape it.
The final phase of the spinning process – called “closure” – must transform the cheese into a perfect sphere without any cracks. The transition from sphere to parellelepiped is achieved with the help of the mastredda, a wooden table on which the cheese is laid and shaped with the help of heavy pieces of wood. And for the correct care of the corners and rounded sides of the form, the cheesemaker is forced to turn the form every 10, 30, 60 minutes for 6-8 hours.
With the milk of Modicane cheeses raised in the wild, excellent fresh provola and caciocavalli are also produced – in particular those produced in Monti Sicani, a mountainous area between the provinces of Agrigento and Palermo – which are produced from November to May.
The Presidium is working to promote not only Ragusano and Caciocavallo dei Monti Sicani but also the quality of the meat, improving production systems, finishing in the barn during the last 40 days and processing, and educating consumers to distinguish the quality.
Meat from animals raised in pastures is more difficult: if the exact degree of maturation is not known, it can be harder and more tenacious than other meats. Moreover, the average consumer does not always appreciate the intense red color of the meat and the yellowish color of the fatty parts (due to the presence of carotene in the pastures).
Thanks to the collaboration with the Soat of Santa Croce Camerina and the Soat of Ragusa, a pilot project is taking shape that will involve some breeders of Modicana and butchers in order to start to make the meat of this breed known involving school canteens and local restaurants.
Rosario Floridia, Ispica (Rg), Contrada Scorsone, Tel. +39 0932 951151
– Produces Ragusano DOP.
Liborio Mangiapane, Cammarata (Ag), Contrada Casalicchio, Tel. +39 0922 904474 / +39 328 3080712, firstname.lastname@example.org
– Produces Caciocavallo and fresh Provole.