Tucked away behind a barrage of windy roads lies a small holding. On it, an old two storey house, battered with years and the breeze that besieges its hilltop position. Up some external stairs, there is a little one room apartment. A bed in the corner, windows looking around, a small kitchen and a table. There is no electricity. Below, an old living room with a large fireplace above which cow bells hang on collars of all sizes for the newest calves to the largest bull.
Outside the house, overlooking, is a field full of cows. These are Podolica cows, native to Southern Italy. Large working beasts. Beautiful. In front, and to the right of the house, a long shed. In here there are pigs and piglets. Lots of them. Then calves to the left of them and right beside the house, still milk fed by their mothers. Overlooking, literally, balancing on a stony hedge because they are not satisfied with their massive field, some goats. Peeking in. A cat supervises from the top of the stairs and a puppy is running around beside himself. Because puppies always are, aren’t they?
Next to the living room, on the right, tucked between the ancient living room cracked with the years and the weather, and the stairs to the top, things start to get interesting. A new door greets. Behind it is a small dairy, full of cheese, and all set to begin making this mornings mozzarella. They make other cheeses too. Beautiful fluffy ricotta lines the side of the dairy, a few are sitting and settling, fresh from this morning. Harder older cheese like caccioricotta (also called ricotta dura, or hard ricotta), and scamorze. There is caciovallo, which translates as over the horse back cheese , because it looks (if you really squint, or perhaps accidentally ingest hallucinogens) like a rider on horseback. Caciovallo appears waxy, although it is not, the surface forms as the cheese ages in caves, in this case half way up the hill that the cows that produce the milk hang out on.
I have arrived just in time to watch them make their batch of mozzarella for that day. The cows are milked twice daily, and the milk is used immediately, and raw, for cheese making. The curd is already sitting in whey and is settled and congealed. It is broken up into rice size grains with a stick with a smooth cup shaped ending. It is then left to settle again, and reshape, before being chopped into curds.
Water is boiled in a pot over a gas ring. When boiling – and it must be boiling – it is added to the curds in another large pot. The cheesemakers hands go into this, neat, no gloves, and he kneads and pulls the mozzarella until it looks like what we would know as mozzarella cheese.
The cheese is then stretched one final time and then the cheese is plaited (I also saw it tied into knots in Puglia) and placed to sit in brine.
Simple and gorgeous. Cheese made with traditional raw cows milk by people who really care about preserving tradition and producing good things. I could have filled my suitcase with it and brought it all home. I could? Of course, I couldn’t. But I can dream of it. I will just have to go back to Puglia.
I loved it and now I think I need to try my (slightly terrified*) hands at a batch at home.
*I am going to wear gloves
I visited Puglia for #WeAreInPuglia, a collaboration between iAmbassador and the Tourism Board of Puglia supporting the #WeAreInPuglia European road show, sponsored by the Tourism Board of Puglia. All editorial is mine, as always.