Vastedda is the only Italian spun paste sheep’s milk cheese.
Historically, the skilled cheesemakers of the Valle del Belìce produced it during the summer period, trying to recover the sheep’s milk cheeses that had defects. The name derives in fact from the dialect word “vasta”, that is “spoiled”, gone bad.
The extraordinarily original idea was to rework the failed pecorini by spinning them at high temperature and producing this ovoid-shaped cheese to be consumed fresh, within two or three days.
An extraordinary cheese for its fragrance, persuasiveness and intensity of flavor, Vastedda should be eaten very fresh: about an hour after forming it is ready for consumption. It is delicately scented and in the mouth prevails a note of butter with a background of herbs of the Belìce Valley, such as grasses and valerian.
The best way to taste it is to cut it in big slices and season it with Sicilian extra virgin olive oil, tomato and oregano. It can also be used as an ingredient of some local dishes, such as the typical “pane cunzato”.
The style of processing varies according to the area of production and the habits of the cheesemaker. Usually raw milk, from one or two milkings, is coagulated at about 35-36°C with rennet from lamb or kid produced on the farm. The breaking up of the mass is carried out with a wooden stick, rotula, until it is reduced to granules as big as a chickpea or a grain of rice; after a brief pause, the paste is collected in a linen cloth and placed on a board. After about an hour it is cut into pieces, placed in a container, usually made of wood, and covered with hot whey at 55-60°C (55-60°F), in order to favor fermentation.
The period of aging varies according to the time of production, external temperature and humidity. The most expert cheesemakers are able to empirically and manually establish the exact maturation of the cheese by making spinning tests. Once the right acidity has been reached, the mass is cut into slices in a wooden container, in which very hot water (90°C) is added, and worked with the help of a wooden shovel, the vaciliatuma.
In the final phase of spinning, when the dough reaches the right consistency, the mass is cut in portions which, worked manually, take the shape of spheres. These, carefully closed, are placed in a ceramic dish, where in a short time take the typical flattened oval shape called vastedda (similar to a flat loaf of bread).
The milk comes from an indigenous breed, the Belìce sheep, a medium-sized animal with a fine, elongated and light head, strong limbs and a white fleece.
The Presidium was born with a couple of producers coordinated by Corfilac of Ragusa and it has been subsequently enlarged gathering other cheesemakers of Belìce.
A few years ago the Consortium for the protection of Vastedda della Valle del Belìce was created, which brings together seven producers and has obtained PDO status for this cheese. Three of these are part of the Slow Food Presidium.
Ovini e Natura, Santa Margherita Belìce (Ag), Contrada Pignolo, Tel. +39 339 3464087, email@example.com
Cangemi, di Giovanna Ragolia, Partanna (Tp), Via Battumari 15, Tel. +39 0924 921454 / +39 327 5756370, firstname.lastname@example.org
Interrante, di Salvatore Interrante, Menfi (Ag), Via Cinquanta 20, Tel. +39 338 3348447, email@example.com