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Cheese Making at Azienda Zootecnica Facenna in Puglia

Blessed are the cheese makers :)

Blessed are the Facenna cheese makers :)

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.

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I like food. I like to make food. Eat food. Photograph food. Write about food. Mainly in London but when I am lucky or organised further afield.

16 Comments

  1. How wonderful Niamh such a treat to share a little of your experience in Puglia…I could almost feel myself there…I keep promising myself to have a go at cheesemaking.

    Reply

    • Hi Kate! Oh you must. It is so satisfying and much more delicious. I have recipes for simple cheese making and butter making in Comfort & Spice. You should give them a bash! Yogurt too – much better and so much cheaper when home made. Enjoy :)

      Reply

  2. The cheese looks amazing! I’m drooling over your photos from Puglia Niamh. Went to the Puglia roadshow in Dublin on Tuesday and got to taste Primitivo. Have bought it twice since then! X

    Reply

  3. Another unique and insightful post. Brilliant words and photos – as always! There looks to be as much pleasure in making Mozzarella as there is in eating it! So smooth and bouncy like a well kneaded dough…obviously i Would make my own but dont have any raw cows milk! ;D (I have a cat…has anyone tried cat’s milk?!)
    Mandy
    http://Www.thestickyfig.co.uk

    Reply

    • Thank you, Mandy :) You don’t need raw milk, and I wouldn’t try cat’s milk! ;)

      Going to work it out and post a recipe.

      Reply

    • The whey is made to use cheese. leftovers are usually fed to pigs but in this case I can’t be sure as I neglected to ask :|

      As for nutrients, this is raw and unpasteurised and made fresh, so very little.

      Reply

  4. How beautiful! I really want some cheese now! We make curd at home but it’s just not the same as these lovely cheeses. And surely everything tastes better in Italy?!

    Reply

  5. I have to have to have to go to Puglia! Your posts have made my mouth water! Always wanted to go and want to go even more now! Do you think September would be a nice time? Thanks for your awesome mouthwatering posts as always.

    Reply

    • Lovely to hear, Catherine :)

      I think September would be perfect. Not too hot, but still warm. Enjoy it!

      Reply

  6. This looks fantastic! I absolutely adore cheese and would love to try to make my own one day, I will have to get your cookbook to find the recipes!

    Reply

  7. I really enjoy reading all about your Italian adventures Niamh. Catching up on your posts at the moment in Malta but hope to catch a flight and visit one day soon. Your photos here are beautiful!

    Reply

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