The four seasons – Tasting summer and winter in a cheese at Casa Lawrence

When I ask Loreto Pacitti of Casa Lawrence what the greatest satisfaction of his work is, he tells me confidently: “A call like this one, which makes me realize the interest in what we do. It makes me feel better understood.”

We’re equals, then. One of the greatest satisfactions of my job is talking to people who work with such passion, the spirit of sacrifice and joy, and being able to tell their stories.

Loreto is one of the co-owners of Casa Lawrence, together with his sister and three cousins. Despite its name, the company is not based in England, but on the Lazio side of Abruzzo National Park in central Italy.

WHERE TO FIND CASA LAWRENCE AT CHEESE 2019

  • in the Taste Workshop From Grass, To Rennet, To Cheese: Pastoral Culture in Lazio, Sunday September 22 at 7 p.m. at Liceo Giolitti-Gandino. Along with Loreto, the workshop will be presented by: Sergio Pitzalis, producer of Roman Countryside Caciofiore (Slow Food Presidium), Danilo Scenna with his Maturano biodynamic wine  from Valle di Comino, Federico Infascelli, teacher at the Department of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Naples Federico II;
  • in the Great Hall of Cheese, where tastings of the cheeses presented in the workshop are available.

 

THE CONTEXT

That English name is not an accident, but in homage to the writer D.H. Lawrence who, 100 years ago, spent some time and set part of his novel The Lost Girl here, under the “magnificence of lustrous stars”. All around the house, which has been restored to conserve the ambience of the scenes painted by the author, lie the pastures of Picinisco, an ideal environment for the 800 sheep and 150 goats that graze here.

THE PASTURES

This is where Loreto’s story starts and, indeed, continues: he’s “a returning shepherd” who left the countryside to spend two years in the army, but then came back to the grass, the animals and the cheeses of his father and grandfather before him. Loreto did not learn everything from his family, however: after leaving the army he studied cheesemaking with the aim of diversifying production, and to give additional value to the milk produced by the family’s animals.

“Today the sheep and goats graze in the biodiverse meadows of southern Lazio all year round, even when there’s snow, or when the pastures are dry, taking everything they can from it. If nature doesn’t give enough, we supplement their diet with hay and cereals produced in-house.”

Conciato di San Vittore cheese, photo courtesy of Casa Lawrence.

MILK, RENNET, BREEDS

“We milk twice a day, and the raw milk is used immediately to make cheese, matured in a naturally-aired cellar.” Of course, but cellar-aging doesn’t cover all the bases when we’re talking about the naturalness of cheese, right? I ask Loreto, feeling a little embarrassed because I think I can guess what he’s going to say, what his philosophy is regarding selected starter cultures, the infamous sachets of industrially-produced bacteria used to kickstart the cheesemaking process. Loreto almost laughs. “Selected starter cultures? We don’t even know what they are. Our philosophy is zero ferments, or at most the milk graft or whey graft for those productions with more lactic acid.” Cheese in its purely natural state, in short. And regarding rennet, it’s a similar story. “Ours is a closed-loop company, which means our rennet is produced in-house using the abomasum of our lambs and kids.”

One might think that we’re in a realm of zero tolerance here. But no, Loreto has had to make certain compromises regarding animal breeds, favoring the triple-purpose Vissana and Sopravissana breeds (milk-meat-wool), the Sarda and the Massese, which are better adapted to the production of milk and meat. However, he remains convinced: “The peculiarity of the milk derives from the animals’ diet, and in the milk of my sheep I can taste the plants they’ve grazed on: chives, for example. Have you any idea what aromas they impart on the milk? How much the seasonal foraging is reflected in the cheese? The winter cheeses are creamier, the spring cheeses more moldy, while the summer cheeses has holes.”

Picinisco Pecorino, photo courtesy of Casa Lawrence.

THE LIMITS OF THE NATURAL

How far is it possible to apply these practices in large companies? Not much, if at all. The use of raw milk within 24 hours of milking and other elements of natural cheesemaking are not easily adapted to industrial scales of production.

So if you want to experience the luxury of natural cheeses, you already guessed it: Cheese is the place to be! Come to our Taste Workshop, where we’ll be comparing:

  • Aged Picinisco Pecorino PDO produced in 2018;
  • Goat’s milk Marzolina (Slow Food Presidium), made with the milk of two milkings coagulated with kid rennet; the forms are aged for a few months in glass demijohns filled with olive oil;
  • The very rare Conciato di San Vittore, (Ark of Taste product), whose characteristic rind is produced with around 15 aromatic and medicinal herbs (chamomile, wild thyme, laurel, juniper, sage, rosemary, wild fennel, star anise, garlic, pepper, coriander and more) all gathered by hand in the local area.

If you really love cheese, it’s important not to simply eat lots of it, but to eat small amounts of natural, high-quality cheese. And here, at Cheese 2019, natural is possible!

by Silvia Ceriani, info.eventi@slowfood.it

Marzolina cheese, photo courtesy of Casa Lawrence.

 

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Regarding the traditions of herders, we suggest you check out:

  • Sardinia: island cheeses and wines, to discover the cheeses of Slow Food Presidia and the Ark of Taste produced by herders, Sunday September 22 at 1 p.m. at IPC Velso Mucci;
  • Choose the mountains: the Varaita Valley, to talk about – and taste – the mountains as a choice, and how the dedication of chefs and cheesemakers can be the foundation for the recovery of oft-forgotten valleys, Sunday September 22 at 7 p.m. at IPC Velso Mucci.

 

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