The mountain rebel

04 August 2023

There are stories at Cheese that fully reflect the theme of this year’s edition: One of them is the Historic Rebel, a Slow Food Presidium since 2003, and certainly a cheese we’ve talked about many times before. But on the occasion of Cheese 2023 there’s a reason to come back to Historic Rebel, and it lies in “The Taste of the Meadows”.

The producers have been at the vanguard of sustainable dairy for decades, having raised awareness, among other things, of the importance of grass and pastures.

The contemporary history of this rebellious cheese began in ’94 when Paolo Ciapparelli, born in 1951 and owner of a company specializing in flooring, took this cheese to heart and committed to preserving its history and production practices. It foundations lie in how the animals are treated, how people work with them, and how the grass is maintained. And these foundations risked being lost.

The meeting with Slow Food

Ciapparelli’s concerns were not unfounded. The birth of the DOP (Protected Designation of Origin) marked an acceleration and an increase in production and a clear division among the producers. On one side were those who made what was then called Historic Bitto (later renamed Historic Rebel), and on the other side, the majority, who produced the Bitto DOP.

And that’s when the rebellion began, and also the relationship with Slow Food. It was 2000 when Giacomo Mojoli, then vice president of the national association, called Ciapparelli to delve into the matter. As Ciapparelli recalls, “I immediately realized that I had found an important ally, someone who supported the narrative of Historic Rebel based on pastures, raw milk, and natural ferments…”

Then the first interviews began, visits to the pastures of Gerola Alta, and a now twenty-year friendship with Piero Sardo. “We organized a meeting with the 18 producers of Historic Rebel, and Piero immediately realized that there was a core of us determined to continue working in a certain way.” A community that decided to follow in Ciapparelli footsteps, embracing his vision of what this cheese should be.

A simple narrative

The Historic Rebel is quite a simple proposition, containing just a few narrative elements.

First and foremost, the herbs and grasses of the pastures in Gerola and Albaredo, in the province of Sondrio. Those from the “solivo” ridges, exposed to the sun, and those from the “vago,” i.e. the shaded slopes. “And this is the foundation of everything because the product strongly depends on how the pasture is treated. From the 17 pastures, you get 17 different flavors.”

Then there are the animals: brown alpine or grey alpine cows, which produce less milk but are optimally suited to life in the pastures, and orobica goats with imposing horns, long hair, and coats of various colors. “Milking is done exclusively by hand. There’s a specific reason for this too: hand milking allows the milkers to closely monitor the animals’ health.”

The calècc are ancient stone constructions that serve as itinerant processing huts, always close at hand, so that the milk doesn’t have to travel more than a few meters and can be processed before its natural heat dissipates. “Never consider them something folkloric or superficial; just like the pastures and the animals, the calècc are essential to ensure the quality of the milk and cheese.”

Then, of course, there’s the raw milk, and no industrial ferments. All these elements lead to a magnificent cheese, one which is also a work of art: on the rinds of the aged forms – when aging is extended for 6, 7 years, or more – dedications and drawings made with blueberry ink appear.

Historic Rebel at Cheese 2023

You can meet the producers of Historic Rebel at Cheese 2023. As always, Slow Food Presidia have a dedicated street, which extends between Via Principi and Via Marconi. Historic Rebel is also featured – along with furmàcc del fen and goat’s cheese from orobica goats at an Aperitif on The Grass on Saturday, September 16 at 7 p.m.

The heart of Historic Rebel

And what of the future? “I wanted to tell the world the touching yet modern story of these farmers. To allow to everyone understand (and we’re really talking about everyone, because the reach of Historic Rebel has gone far beyond the borders of Valtellina, Lombardy, and even Italy) the emotional component in this story. At some point, someone thought that our future depended on numbers. But the future is about staying in the mountains, working there, living there, and knowing how to interpret its delicate balances.”

Solidarity with the producers

In 2003, together with other local entrepreneurs, Ciapparelli founded Valli del Bitto, “a commercial company supporting the production of Historic Rebel cheese, ensuring continuity and economic security for the producers. The company now has about 160 members, including some outside of Valtellina. Thanks to the members, we built the dairy in Gerola Alta, and we were able to double the price paid to the producers to 18 euros per kilo, 20 for those who produce aged cheeses.”

This step secured a future for the cheese. “We did everything possible to make it work, and we did it on our own, without any public assistance. All of this had an extraordinary effect because today we can say that we are even freer than 25 years ago, that we have become a symbol for all those small-scale productions that don’t want to bend to the will of big business, but want to rebel.”

The farmers behind Historic Rebel

As this story is a story of tenacious farmers, it feels right to name them. They are: Dino Papini from Morbegno (Alpe Orta Soliva), Cristina Gusmeroli from Dazio (Alpe Cul), Simone Ravelli from Morbegno (Alpe Garzino), Luigi Faustino Acquistapace from Gerola Alta (Alpe Trona Vaga), Samuele Martinoli from Civo (Alpe Bomino Soliva), Angelo Acquistapace from Cosio Valtellino (Alpe Valvedrano), Carlo Duca from Talamona (Alpe Ancogno Soliva), Sonia Marioli from Talamona (Alpe Cavizzola), Oreste Petrelli from Bema (Alpe Vesenda Bassa, and Alpe Pedena), Manuel Ciocchini, and Erica Mazzola from Rasura (Alpe Piazza). Our thanks go to them.

A special thank you to Carlo Mazzoleni, together with Paolo Ciapparelli, coordinators of the Slow Food Presidia for Historic Rebel and for Furnacc del Feén, for making this interview possible.

New projects: Palazzo Folcher

The Historic Rebel has recently opened a magnificent new chapter in its history in the beautiful Palazzo Folcher in Morbegno, a space for in-depth exploration, knowledge, and of course, tasting and purchasing.

“The project is not complete yet, but we have seized this opportunity to give the utmost dignity to our cheese and the other products of the valley. This cheese is part of the history of this area, and present in stories dating back to the Napoleonic era when it accompanied spices on their trade journeys.”

Long live the Historic Rebel!

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

Skip to content