From milk to cheese: an alchemical laboratory

24 August 2021

I meet Anna Maria Trombetta in her barn, where she’s checking on the wide, fenced areas for the sheep. “Today I’m alone, as my two sons have taken the day off, but I’ll have my own day off next week.” We’re at Bronzetta, a biodynamic farm in Paroldo, near Ceva, a marvelous amphitheater of the High Langhe.

A determined woman with clear ideas, Anna Maria arrived here 20 years ago. She says with pride: “After a brief period working in Mondovì I started a small business raising bees and growing fruit. We were the founders of the first union of organic producers in the Cuneo Province: we’ve never done conventional agriculture.”

“But when I discovered biodynamic farming a new world opened to me, one that brought me here: I needed a place where I could build a biodynamic farming organism, that is, a collection of organs cooperating together.”

Biodynamic agriculture, sheep and bees

biodyamic bees
The bees of Bronzetta

Anna Maria sums up the essence of biodynamic agriculture for her: “One of the essential elements in this greater organism is ruminants, and in this area sheep are the perfect example, able to create a direct link between the vegetable and animal world. This happens in the pastures: nature feeds the animals and the animal gives energy back to nature. As well as manure, which we can see, animals transmit low-frequency electromagnetic waves, through which living material communicates. An exchange for which we find evidence in quantum physics. The other fundamental animal is the bees. We know them for their honey but their function in nature and the environment is much more complex, as they allow for the circulation of life.”

Her reasoning is lucid but has that emotional drive we so often find in those who believe in this type of agriculture. Step by step she has built a business, or rather, an organism of biodynamic agriculture that stretches over 20 hectares: “As well as sheep, bees and pasture there’s the forest, another essential element, arable land, the vegetable garden, chickens, hedges. This high-biodiversity environment is ideal for biodynamic farming. None of this is possible where you have monocultures,” she concludes, with an ominous tone. We move on to the meadow where her 90 sheep are grazing. With the help of two loyal dogs she guides them back to the barn. “The Maremmano sheepdog is vital for defending them from wolves.”

Understanding the needs of animals

sheep biodynamic
Anna Maria Trombetta and her sheep

In the summer the sheep are guided up to the pastures twice a day, in the morning and evening when the temperature is cooler: “Some advice and experience allow you to understand the needs of animals. Regarding the processing of the milk, I did a course at the Dairy Institute in Moretta.”  As well as Langhe sheep toma (Ark of Taste), Anna Maria produces robiola, giuncata, ricotta and pecorino (the latter being the only aged cheese; the others are consumed fresh). In the springtime, at the beginning of the lactation period, she also makes yoghurt: “Turning milk into cheese is almost an alchemy, if you work with raw milk and let the bacterial flora in the milk do its job. As such the flavors the cheese change over the course of the season and from one pasture to the next because the flora is different. What they eat has an impact on the flavor of the milk.”

The value of food

As well as cheese the farm offers vegetables, honey, pollen, propolis, royal jelly, lamb, chicken and eggs. Her one disappointment: “Unfortunately people are often not informed or even interested in learning about the different ways of working and producing food. Regarding sheep cheese, for example, people are often aware of it’s nutritional qualities, and it is demonized as being ‘fatty’. But just eating less of it would be enough: good sheep milk cheese is highly nutritious even in small quantities, above all if the sheep are pasture-raised. Their milk is balanced and rich in mono- and polyunsaturated fats, while milk from sheep that are raised solely in barns on feed has a high presence of saturated fats. I try to educate people, but I can only do so much: mass communication favors people working in another way, because there aren’t many of us producing the way we do, with a complete cycle of pasture and hay.”

She continues: “Supermarkets, in order to sell their cheeses at the price they do, require their producers to adopt procedures that ensure the highest possible output with the minimum input. Naturally this comes at the cost of quality, and therefore health, because we are what we eat. Many doctors have forgotten what Hippocrates said: ‘Let food be your medicine and let medicine be your food.” Which doctor nowadays tells you to be careful about your diet by asking you where your food comes from, how it was packaged or produced? We speak only of quantities of a this or that food, not of characteristic or qualities.” I don’t interrupt her flow; her analysis is clear, heartfelt.

To discover the extraordinary world of small-scale raw milk dairy production and meet people like Anna Maria Trombetta the best place is Cheese, from September 17 to 20 in Bra.

by Carlo Petrini for La Repubblica Torino, published 20/08/21

Where to buy, sleep and eat

The products of Bronzetta can be found at the shop in Via Prà Sottano, 1, Paroldo, at the market in Ceva on Saturdays, and at the Mondovì Altopiano market on Wednesday mornings.

Eat

Trattoria Salvetti, Via Coste, 19, Paroldo; Az. Agrituristica Cascina Raflazz, Loc. Viora, 19, Paroldo

Sleep

Magiche Langhe, Via Coste, 49, Paroldo; Ostello di Paroldo, Fraz. Bovina, Paroldo

Terre alte, Via Coste, Paroldo