Paraloup: a herd of goats to make great cheeses

12 August 2021

“The village of Paraloup was always a pasture, especially in the summer. The tradition of the Stura Valley has always been more about raising animals for meat, like the Sambucana sheep. But the conditions were ideal for making great cheeses from the milk of a herd of goats, and that’s how we started this adventure.”

Marco Revelli is the life and soul of this project to reanimate this alpine village at 1360 meters, not far west of Cuneo. He introduces me to Gian Vittorio Porasso, herder and cheesemaker that I met some years ago in his hometown of Castelnuovo di Ceva. Gian Vittorio arrived here on June 29 with 140 goats and seven dogs for the summer period.

Marco continues: “The pole star of Paraloup is the idea that culture can be an engine of development for local areas. And so the Museum of Stories that we have in one of the seven houses we’ve restored becomes the beating heart of everything we do. In this journey of regeneration it was important to identify a sustainable production activity. We immediately thought of pastoralism, which is perfectly well-suited to this marginal areas of the mountains. This idea took shape through a meeting with Professor Andrea Cavallero and the commitment of Gian Vittorio.”

Between science and traditional knowledge

Paraloup is in Rittana, in the lower part of the Stura Valley, not far from Cuneo. Photo: Federico Bernini

An experiment that has grown out of a meeting of classical science and the world traditional knowledge. As Gian Vittorio tells me: “Here I found stable meadows and invasive plants like the thornless blackberry, dog-rose, hawthorn, ash, raspberry, birch and beech that are ideal for my goats. The Professor taught me that the presence of ash trees is thanks to the Savoy royal family: the butter produced from the milk of animals who eat ash tree leaves has a higher melting point, and so was easier to bring to Turin and other markets.”

Today the dream is to recreate that equilibrium between animal, vegetation, landscape and humankind: the goats can clean the forest, reducing the invasiveness of weeds, creating precious tracts of stable meadow, while the presence of herders allows for the maintenance of mountain paths and waterways, which are essential for regulating water and avoiding the damage caused by intense and irregular rainfall.

Pasture cheeses

Tasting these cheeses confirms what Cavallero said about the superior quality of the milk of animals that have grazed on the wide variety of grasses, leaves and barks which they find in the pastures around the village. The rustic Roccaverano goats, milked twice a day, offer on average less than a liter and a half of milk, which Gian Vittorio’s able hands then transform into robiola to be eaten fresh (from lactic curd) and re-kneaded toma (made with rennet) that’s better suited to aging, as well as the peculiar Castelchabra, an homage to king of cheeses, Castelmagno. Kefir and ricotta made in very small quantities here also rich in flavor and aroma.

Beyond the goats, the summer season has seen the establishment of two vegetable gardens at Paraloup, while the leadership of Cavallero and the testimony of the Museum of Stories have sparked a new cultivation of rye, thanks to which more abandoned terrain that’s suited to the crop can be recovered in the coming years.

A living cultural center

Alessandro Ottenga, director of the project, is keen to underline one of its fundamental aspects: “This is not a mountain refuge, it’s a living cultural center where four people live all year round, and others will arrive: we’re a community that wants to create an autonomous and sustainable micro-system in a marginal mountain area through the affirmation of a cultural identify which can power the economic and social development of this local area.”

It’s precisely this aspect that deserves attention: it’s not just a good herder or a nice piece of land. It’s not the dangerous banality of a “return to the mountains” purely for tourism or to “escape from the city”. Here there’s a modern idea of living in the mountains, with its feet firmly planted in the ground and a vision that goes beyond physical limits and boundaries.

This idea deserves our support, including the fundraising campaign launched on for Pastoral revival at Paraloup or simply by visiting the village and participating in a tour around the pastures and tasting their cheeses.

Paraloup at Cheese

Paraloup and the cheeses of Gian Vittorio Porasso will be held present at Cheese 2021 in a Taste Workshop on Saturday, September 18: Piedmont and Trentino, from pastures to kitchens and in a conference on Sunday, September 19: Pastoral revival and the return to the mountains.

by Carlo Petrini, published in La Repubblica on 06/08/21

Our tips

At Borgata Paraloup you can sleep, eat, visit the Museum of Stories and the art installations that are peridocally hosted, and buy the cheeses of Gian Vittorio Porasso. On your way there, you could stop at Roccasparvera for lunch at La fame, or in Rittana, at the shop and bar Andata e Ritorno. Other places to sleep nearby include B&B Notte Stellata in Gaiola and B&B Pisolo e i Persi Pien in Roccasparvera. Also worth visiting is MUDRI – Museo Diffuso di Rittana (FB @mudririttana).

Cover image Ph. Alessandro Ottenga