Small-scale artisans as guardians of the meadows

11 September 2023

We thought long and hard about the Cheese teaser video, before deciding on our shooting locations.

We wanted to offer a faithful representation of our vision of cheesemaking: an art that starts with permanent meadows, the animals the graze on them, their raw milk, and the craft of small-scale producers who transform it into cheese with self-made starter cultures.

In the end, we settled on Amaltea, which produces Roccaverano cheese, a Slow Food Presidium, in the eponymous town of Roccaverano, Piedmont, and A Cimma in Montoggio, Liguria, which raises Cabannina cows and produces delightful cheeses.

Roccaverano

When shooting a video outdoors, the most crucial element is lighting, especially on the pastures of the Alta Langa and Alta Valle Scrivia hills in southern Piedmont. To catch the sunrise in Roccaverano, we set off from Bra on July 31 at 4 a.m.

We arrived at the farm, and everyone was still asleep. For a moment, we wondered if they were really expecting us!

In Alta Langa

The farm lies at an altitude of 670-700 meters, in the last stretch of Langa, bordering the Ligurian Apennines. It’s a challenging area where the population is aging, and essential services are often lacking. Tourism is providing some respite, with visitors from Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Denmark, but the region cannot rely solely on tourism.

Amaltea is a family-run farm led by Giovanni Soleri and Daniela Saglietti. They bought the farmhouse where they now live to embark on the adventure of milk production, which, especially in the early years, was an all-consuming task. “From 2006 to 2011, we never left this place, then slowly, we learned to do so,” Giovanni tell us. They are one of two farms in the Roccaverano Presidium. They produce about 42,000 forms of this cheese annually, mainly from Camosciata goats and a few purebred Roccaverano goats, although, as Giovanni told me, “At the moment, the project for the recovery of the breed seems to have faded away.”

From herders to farmers

In the early years, when the flock consisted of only 15-20 goats, Giovanni was the herder, but as their number increased, he progressively redefined his role and approach to his work. Today, he has about 200 goats, and he raises them partly in the barn and partly on pasture, supplementing their diet of fresh grass and shrubs with selected forage to obtain the perfect milk for making Roccaverano. “Of course, there are many challenges to face: for example, forages have seen a steep increase in price in the last year, which hasn’t been matched by a similar increase in cheese prices. We haven’t gone beyond a 10% price increase, and finding economic balance today is really difficult.”

“Milk is like a sponge, and it doesn’t lie,” Giovanni told me. “It absorbs the scents of the forage plants, it responds differently to weather conditions… All our work is dedicated to finding the perfect conditions to get the milk we want and the cheese we want… it’s a cognitive factor that increases and develops over time and with experience.”

Small-scale artisans as guardians of the meadows

During Cheese, Amaltea Bio and A Cimma will be present in Via Marconi, in front of the “The Taste of the Meadows” exhibition, in an area dedicated to small-scale artisans. This is where the small-scale producers who best exemplify and represent the philosophy of Cheese 2023 will share their stories!

Sunset in Montoggio

For Montoggio, we chose the light of the sunset.

When we arrived, in the late afternoon, a small community welcomed us: Paolo Castagnola, his wife Laura, their daughter Gaia, and a tribe of lively dogs: Zoe, Semola, and Matita.

The Ligurian hinterland

The light is warm, enveloping, generous, and before we start shooting, we sit down to chat on the terrace surrounded by pots of flowers and herbs. Not far away is the stable for the Cabannina cows, a Slow Food Presidium. It’s a bit unusual to see them there because they spend most of their time outdoors, grazing on the pasture. However, today is a somewhat exceptional moment because Paolo has kept them in the barn to facilitate our filming.

These Cabannina cows are a genuine rarity: “There are only 400 head in total, or even fewer. I have 14 of them.” From their raw milk, Paolo makes Cabannina cheese, a round and flat cheese with a balanced and moderately acidic flavor. The cheese is ready for consumption after 15 days of production, but it can also be aged for 40 days or more. Another symbolic product of the farm is Mou, the Genovese version of dôçe de læte, whose recipe was brought by returning Argentine migrants.

These cows are truly beautiful, especially when you watch them agilely climb the slopes. As evidence of their hardiness, they don’t just eat grass but also shrubs and foliage, as if they were goats. The oldest, Amelia, is an impressive 20 years old. It’s this is a world away from intensive farming.

by Silvia Ceriani, [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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