The Valnerina is a harsh, wild land, covered in forests and pastures.
Shepherding used to be one of the most important economic activities in this part of Umbria, with every family rearing their own sheep and goats.
In the summer, flocks from other regions would also be brought to the highland pastures, while from September the Valnerina locals would move lower, towards the plains and grasslands of Lazio, where the climate was milder. They would then return to the high altitudes at the start of the following summer.
During this seasonal livestock migration, the cheese and ricotta produced from the sheep’s milk had to be preserved and transported. Part of the ricotta was used to make the traditional piatto or scotta, a bread-and-whey soup with fresh ricotta. The remainder was placed in a hemp sack, squeezed to remove any liquid, salted and left to dry, hung up in the cellar or other rooms where cheeses were aged.
The result was ricotta salata, or salted ricotta, its typical pear shape coming from the cloth bag, which was wider at the bottom and narrower at the neck. Sometimes the ricotta would be coated not just with salt but also with bran or wild herbs that would help naturally preserve the product. The aging could last from 15 days up to 5 months.
The ricotta salata shapes weigh between 500 grams and a kilo. They have no rind, just a white, compact paste. When aged briefly, they can be eaten on their own, perhaps dressed with extra-virgin olive oil and pepper. The longer-aged ricotta salata, however, is grated over pasta or soups like acquacotta umbra, made with stale bread, tomatoes, onions and little mint.
With the depopulation of the countryside in the 1960s and ‘70s, many sheep-farming activities disappeared from the Valnerina. Recent years have seen a gradual revival thanks to a few family-run dairies. They make ricotta salata, along with pecorino cheeses, though they no longer practice transhumance, the seasonal migration of livestock.
The earthquakes that hit Central Italy in 2016 and 2017, however, seriously affected this area, sending the farmers into a new crisis. This Presidium, thanks to the support of the Parmigiano Reggiano PDO Consortium, wants to support the recovery of this sector.
The Presidium ricotta salata is produced by farmers who use their own raw milk, produced by flocks that graze the Valnerina pastures throughout the year.
Alta Valle del Nera municipalities, Perugia province, Umbria region