From Banker to Cheesemaker – Interview by Carlo Petrini

Two bankers decide to produce an excellent Castelmagno.

It happened in the homonymous village of Val Grana, in the province of Cuneo, which gives birth to this great cheese of a thousand-year-old tradition.

We are talking about Andrea Amedeo and his wife Ilaria Brustolon, 38 and 30, who together with the father run the farm La Meiro. It was actually daddy Giorgio, a 71-year-old engineer today, to start the company in the beginning of the 2000s.

Then the very active mayor Gianni De Matteis urged him to rediscover the mountain pasture Castelmagno tradition (Slow Food Presidium) otherwise destined to disappear between the industrially approved Jerseys.

“It’s not very often that the son decides to continue his father’s business,” says Andrea, “but that wasn’t our case. Although, both my father and I came from outside the cheese world.”

Before deciding on cheese, in fact, Andrea worked for a multinational company in Milan after completing his studies in Economics. Today he combines dairy and banking activities in Cuneo: “Yes, you just have to be organized. For example, I pass my summer holidays to work in the mountains. In the rest of the year I plan my commitments making a thousand sacrifices. It’s tiring, but it’s a job full of satisfaction, otherwise I would not do it for fifteen years. Also, I’m not alone: there is my father and my wife Ilaria.”

In fact, Ilaria’s choice was even more clear. She was a banker until last year when she chose to leave her fixed place to devote her soul and body to making Castelmagno. “I’ve always helped Andrea and her father Giorgio to milk cows and make cheese on weekends. I’ve been passionate about it right away so I decided to quit my job for that job. Although it was not easy to abandon a long term contract, now I’m really grateful. ”

In order to carry out their activity, the Amedeo family has built a dairy farm and stable in Chiappi, the highest village in the municipality, near the Sanctuary of Castelmagno. They acquired high alpine pastures rich in herbs and flowers, including Grange Nollo, Rudu and Borgis. Up at 2100 meters, there is also a shelter where cows, twenty in total, rest at night.

Castelmagno needs work every day, as tradition says: “We work twice a day, in the evening and in the morning. At the dairy, we heat the milk, add the rennet and get a fresh curd that is thawed, that is to lose the whey, in special cans.

After 24 hours we cut it into large slices that we dip for another three days in whey. Then the curd is broken a second time (double breaking is one of the features that make Castelmagno unique) and put into molds. The form obtained is then pressurized to eliminate any whey that could compromise the success of cheese.”

The aging takes place in natural caves and the times are longer than those put forward by the discipline: “Ours go from six months to four years. The cheese after two months has a chalky texture and tends to crumble. It also has too many scents of milk and acidic notes due to immersion in whey.”

One cheese weighs 6.5 kg and is obtained after seven consecutive working days using 80 liters of milk. Meiro produces on average 3-4 shapes per day. “85% of our cheese is sold in Italy. The rest in the United States and Central Europe. Then there are fairs that allow direct contact with the customer, shops and restaurants, and buying groups.”

Today Meiro does not only make cheese, but has also started producing medicinal herbs and aromatic herbs, including genepì (a traditional herbal liqueur), with organic certification. “Two years ago, we opened an accommodation business, with catering and guesthouse, at the invitation of customers who wanted to experience the milking, the process of cheesemaking and taste our typical cheese and dishes.”

The Castelmagno La Meiro has been named twice in Venice as “the best Italian mountain cheese”. “These are things that we advertise little because we think more about our work than our appearance. But for a small dairy these are enormous satisfactions.”

Interview by Carlo Petrini, published in La Repubblica Torino in Italian on 6th of August 2017.

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