Gabriele Scilligo from class 1987 is a young producer of Bettelmatt cheese. Also known as “the fat of the Alps”, Bettelmatt is produced only in Ossola hills. Gabriele lives in Formazza with his family and learned the art from his grandfather Ettore.
“From an early age I helped him bring hay to the animals. He had a few cows and he would make cheese,” says Gabriele. “Then by twenty years of age I tried to make it myself. From the first moment I understood that continuing this family tradition is my path.” When the grandfather passed away, after graduating from Veterinary Sciences in Milan, Gabriele started a small farm named after his grandfather.
His life is no easy, marked by the alternation of summer and winter. “In cold weather I make the local Toma, but from May until September I dedicate my time to making Bettelmatt. It’s made from the whole milk of a single milking at the mountain.”
Gabriele has eight Italian Bruno-alpina cows but he pastures hundreds since he manages the flocks of fifteen other breeders.
In order to understand how this extraordinary cheese is made, he tells us a typical day of his:
“At 5 in the morning we take the cows to pasture for milking and we immediately start curdling. After fifty minutes, we cut the curd and cook the mass at 44 – 45 C degrees. When it is ready we collect and we place it into molds. In the mean time, somebody takes cows to pasture and another one prepares the cellar.”
Preparing the cellar means making the aging rooms ready and salting the cheese on wooden boards. They will remain at least sixty days, although the aging can take even a year. “After lunch and a two-hour break, we repeat the entire process. We finish by ten o’clock in the evening.” And then? He smiles. “Then I go to sleep, because the days are quite exhausting.”
It naturally comes to mind to think how great of a sacrifice this young person does every day: “It is not that heavy for me. When I see the cheese I make and that it turned out well, I am satisfied.”
There is no point in saying that his cheese is not only beautiful, it is wonderful and suasive, exalting the aromas of all the herbs and flowers that characterize the pastures of Toggia-Regina Alps.
Birth of a producers’ association
Gabriele is not the party-all-night type. He’s not interested in the fast life in cities. He doesn’t use a phone very often: “In pastures, there is no signal.” He’s not a loner, but more a person with few frills. He has clear ideas: next step is to build a new barn. “For now there’s limited space and the animals are tied. A new barn will be better for their wellbeing. I hope to do this in the course of a year or two.”
Thanks to the direct selling of his cheese (he sells a kilo for 22-25 euros, the ones aged until Christmas can cost up to 30 euros per kilo), he tries to save as much as possible to make the dream come true.
Of course, it is not very easy. “My family members help me a lot. My dad is now retired and always with me. Same for my mother and my brothers. They have other occupations but they always help me. The youngest one is ten years old and I often wonder if he will want to do this job in the future.”
In 2013, a producers’ association was born to protect ad promote small-scale producers of this cheese. There are eight producers and they can brand their cheese as Bettelmatt. In addition to Gabriele, there is Silvano Matli, the president of the association, Gianni Matli, the family of Olzeri, Pennati brothers, Fausto Bracchi, Cristina Bravi and Massimo Bernardini.
So, wherever you are, if you taste a Bettelmatt, it can only be thanks to one of them.
Interview by Carlo Petrini, published by La Repubblica Torino in Italian on the 30th of July 2017.