Dairy twins

27 July 2023

When we first heard about the Facciotti twins, Greta and Natascia, we mistakenly thought that their lifestyle choice stemmed from a desire to continue a family tradition.

However, once we reached the 1800-meter mark in Val Sermenza (in the Upper Valsesia of eastern Piedmont), we found Greta and Natascia Facciotti, who’ve been spending their summers here since 2018, together with 20 cows and 70 goats.

Born in 1995, the Facciotti twins grew up in nearby Boccioleto, where their father and brother worked in a factory. “There’s no history of generations and generations of farming here,” says Greta, the more outgoing of the two. She tells me how they got started in the dairy world: “Natascia started helping a distant great-aunt who had about ten goats when she was just eight years old. And I started working with a lady from Boccioleto, helping her to manage her 5 cows and 20 goats when I was 14. I stayed with her until just after I turned eighteen when we decided to start our own business.”

Val Sermenza revived by cows and goats

A corner of Valsesia, photo: Slow Food Archive

There is indeed passion and vocation behind their decision, but above all, there’s a strong spirit of active citizenship and a sense of responsibility for the mountain community. As Greta says, “Val Sermenza was dying, there was nothing left. We had to do something. And so, with great sacrifices, we started from scratch, first by renovating some old buildings which are now used as goat stables, and then by constructing another stable for the cows. We embraced this choice with all its ups and downs, being aware that every difficulty can be overcome with dedication and the right mindset.”

The Facciotti twins’ macagn at Cheese 2023

This typical mountain cheese, made from raw cow’s milk, can be found at the Cheese Market, on Presidia Street.

Greta moves the cauldron containing the curd over the wood-fired stove, and we reflect on the tenacity, frankness, and authenticity with which the two sisters carry out their work. Their continuous search for the right balance between tradition and innovation, while respecting the mountains that host them and the needs of their animals. Greta continues, “We could use gas, which would make the cheesemaking process faster and remove worries about rain dampening the wood or the smell of smoke when it’s windy. By not using gas, we’re forced to use wood. This way, we contribute to keeping the forest clean, avoiding the spread of devastating fires.”

From the wood-fired cauldron to digital communication

As Natascia sets what will become a macagn wheel on a wooden shelf, she explains another important aspect: “Making cheese with raw milk means working with a living material that depends on many uncontrollable conditions; it’s a continuous learning process. Yesterday, we moved the cows to Pian della Rosa, about 300 meters higher than where we are now. Moving is stressful for them, so we know that in the coming days, the milk quantity will decrease, and the resulting cheese might not be perfect because we need to give the animals time to adapt to the new pastures. And that’s just how it should be.”

Among their planned projects is a cellar with automated humidity and temperature control. Without it, the results of their hard work risk being compromised by excessive environmental variations during the aging period. They also plan to bring the mountain valleys into the digital age, a task they can no longer postpone. As Greta says, “The internet is indispensable in our work. We can’t afford to build a website and struggle to maintain efficient communication with our customers thereafter because there’s no signal. We can’t accept that.”

Dealing with wolves

Macagn cheese. Photo: Valeria Necchio

Before saying goodbye, the twins express a concern, almost an appeal, i.e. finding a valid solution to the presence of wolves, which have been reintroduced in the valley. Greta warns: “The wolves have completely changed the way we work. We now need to constantly monitor the animals, which greatly increases our working hours and makes every movement more complicated.” The active involvement of institutions is needed, going beyond providing compensation for damages or remunerating extra working hours. At the same time, the negative perception of herders as wolf exterminators needs to be challenged. Ultimately, all they ask for is the right to carry out their work with greater peace of mind.

If you’re planning a visit to the mountains of Valsesia, you can find these two young herders and cheesemakers at the Sorelle Facciotti Farm store in Boccioleto on Fridays and Saturdays, and at the Carcoforo market on Sundays.

by the Editors, [email protected]

Cheese 2023 is organized by Slow Food and the City of Bra from September 15-18. See you there! #Cheese2023

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