The beautiful summer

14 September 2023

Though in 2022 there was a challenging and problematic summer, the summer of 2023 was a “triumph for the cows” according to Davide Nicoli, a producer of Aged Asiago cheese at Malga Serona, Abundant rainfall has resulted in fresh grass and forage for the animals. The milk is of high quality and plentiful, and the problems of the previous year seem distant.

There’s been a generational shift at Malga Serona in recent times, as Davide Nicoli’s grandfather used to raise the cows before him. The business had been temporarily closed with Davide’s father decided not to take over, with operations resuming in 2010 when Davide and his brother Matteo breathed new life into it. Here they raise a hardy bovine breed, the Rendena, which is well-suited for grazing in hilly and mountainous regions. Davide’s brother-in-law, who also runs a crop farming business, joined the Nicoli brothers as a partner in 2017 and is a proponent of the Friulian Red cow breed. As a result, the farm is now even more diverse in terms of cattle breeds, locations, and milk management practices.

Summer at Malga Serona

The beautiful stone farmhouse at Malga Serona was built with stones sourced from English cemeteries after World War II, and is situated in the pastures of the Sette Comuni. Originally created for cheese production and housing the dairyman, it now functions as an agritourism destination and cheese factory, engaging all the members of this large and dynamic family.

In recent years, Davide, his brother, and his brother-in-law have primarily focused on pasture management in what they describe as a highly complex environment due to steep slopes, rocky terrain, and the need to educate the cows properly. As Davide puts it, “Cows can be big wasters if you let them. They eat what they prefer and leave the rest. Our work has thus been centered around rationing the pasture, fencing off areas they shouldn’t access, setting grazing schedules, and allowing the grass to regrow and rejuvenate once it’s grazed.”

The Presidium

The Rendena cows thrive here. “They are more suitable for grazing, and their milk has a high casein content, perfect for producing our Aged Asiago cheese in the summer.” This magnificent cheese is part of the Slow Food Presidium, which, besides Davide, includes two other producers. The cheese offers a range of scents, from mown grass to ripe fruit to moss. It begins with a sweet, almost sugary taste and gradually transitions to sharpness, toasted hazelnut, and grilled bread. It’s an exceptionally rare product suitable for long aging, offering an extraordinary complexity of flavors, tastes, and aromas. Davide’s dream is for the farm’s product to be differentiated – indicating the pastures, altitudes, and orientations – and to find a commercial path, selling at the right price because producing in a farm like this is decidedly more challenging.

Davide Nicoli at Cheese 2023

Davide will share his experience as a farmer in the conference “Meadows: Why They Are Disappearing and How to Save Them” on September 15 at 3 p.m.

Other speakers include:

  • Giampiero Lombardi, Professor, Department of Agricultural, Forestry and Food Sciences, University of Turin;
  • Bruno Martin, Senior Researcher, French National Institute for Agriculture, Food and Environment (INRAE);
  • Jim Levitt, Director of the International Land Conservation Network (ILCN) at the Lincoln Institute;
  • Mariana Donnola, Breeder at La Argentina; Regenerative Breeding Expert at Deafal; National Association of Producers for Regenerative Organic Agriculture.
  • Parmigiano Reggiano Consortium
  • Ariele Muzzarelli, beekeeper

For aging their cheeses, “we rely on the expertise of Guglielmi, a cheese ager who works with various types of cheese. His aging cellars are located in Val d’Astico at an altitude of 600 meters, in a mountainous environment that, due to its physical and climatic characteristics, is ideal for our Asiago. We chose to collaborate with an external expert because we realized that every aspect of production requires in-depth knowledge. We focused on cattle breeding and agritourism, leaving this delicate production phase to others.”

Winter on the Brenta

During the non-grazing season the animals live in the stables of Bressanvido, a municipality in the Vicenza region with just over 3000 inhabitants and a total of 6000 cows. Although the plains here don’t offer the same diversity of vegetation as the mountains, the living conditions for Davide’s animals are excellent. “In Bressanvido, our animals graze on permanent meadows which may be less rich in variety compared to high-altitude pastures, but they provide excellent fresh grass and high-quality hay. These plains are located on the right bank of the Brenta River, an area rich in spring water, and they are still irrigated.”

To manage them effectively and refine their breeding method, which includes more precise and clean manure management, Davide sought agronomic advice from other farms. “Starting from scratch was challenging, but it was also our fortune because it allowed us to acquire skills and knowledge more precisely… Since Aged Asiago cheese is a summer-only product, the winter milk is supplied to Lattebusche, a prominent entity in Belluno that purchases milk exclusively from Lattebusche member farms. They promote high-quality milk with a traceable supply chain.”

A big family

As well Asiago, they produce other wonderful cheeses at Malga Serona

We’ve already mentioned Davide’s two brothers and brother-in-law, but everyone in Davide’s family plays a crucial role, especially since Malga Serona is not just a cheese factory but also a mountain agritourism destination. On weekends, creative cuisine complements the more traditional offering. “This is a new challenge. We’re working with two chefs who have worked in Michelin-starred restaurants, and they’re enriching the menu with plates you wouldn’t typically find in a mountain farm, like cacio e pepe with our aged Malga cheese and spruce powder. This idea has taken off and is working very well, but it naturally requires a precise division of roles.”

“My wife is a lawyer,” David continues, “and she takes care of the service on weekends. Matteo’s wife, an agronomist, specializes in animal nutrition. My sister handles all the communication. My father and father-in-law are always grumbling but they keep us grounded. Even if they don’t initially seem enthusiastic about something, they eventually get passionate, and there’s no stopping them! My mother works with us in the barn, too.”

All this teamwork, together with the milk of their 60 cows, allows the Malga Serona team to showcase all the beauty and goodness of these mountains!

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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