The pastures of Sardinia

07 August 2023

Tra i produttori del mercato di Cheese non potevamo non concedere spazio alla Sardegna, una regione fondamentale quando si parla di latte ovino e di caci.

Our story takes place in Borore, a town of about 2000 people in the province of Nuoro. Located 400 meters above sea level, at the foot of the Marghine mountain range, also known as “the land of the giants’ tombs.” The protagonists of this tale are the two brothers Giuseppe and Pietro Rubanu, who carry on the cheesemaking tradition started by their father.

Giuseppe tells me that over sixty years have passed since his father, Giovanni Rubanu, moved his sheep to Borore. Today, he and his brother Pietro continue to graze their 750 animals in the local area and produce locally-sourced, entirely organic sheep’s milk cheeses. These include various types of ricotta – soft, salted, and smoked – as well as aged pecorino cheeses like Ganestro and Su Lizzu, and Fiore Sardo DOP.

Fratelli Rubanu: how it started…

The cheesemaking history of this family starts from the slopes of Supramonte, specifically from Orgosolo, at the heart of the island and a pastoral center. In 1959, Giovanni Rubanu set out for Borore, where he initiated his first sheep breeding venture on grazing land. Step by step, he built up his businesses, divided between lands in his hometown (50 hectares) and in the Marghine mountains (90 hectares).

With time, Giovanni passed the torch to his two sons: “There are three of us brothers. Pietro and I work in the company, while Francesco is an agronomist. Ours is a traditional family-run business. Currently, we have three employees who mainly take care of the livestock.” Early in the morning, the two Rubanu brothers milk the flock before proceeding with the cheese-making process. As Giuseppe adds: “At certain times of the year, we also make cheese creams and yogurt using the milk from our sheep.”

I Fratelli Rubanu a Cheese 2023

I Fratelli Rubanu sono tra i produttori del mercato di Cheese. Potete venire ad assaggiare i loro caci sardi nel mercato dell’evento.

…and how it’s going

“Before 2004, we supplied our cheeses to national wholesalers. Thanks to our participation at Cheese, we started direct shipping to customers and retail sales in small shops throughout Italy. For three years, we also sold our cheeses in a business in Denmark. Back then, our Danish customers even came to visit us on the farm,” says Giuseppe.

The Fratelli Rubanu farm agricultural company sells its products in Sardinia and throughout Italy, mainly in the north. About a year ago, they also opened a small farm shop in Cirié, Piedmont. “The products sold in the shop are exclusively Sardinian cheeses and products. We offer our cheeses, cured meats, pane carasau, wine, and sweets. Our only employee, Maria Pugliesi, manages the store,” Giuseppe tells me. He says that he and Maria met about twenty years ago during Salone del Gusto, and they kept meeting each other at other food and agriculture events, establishing a friendship based on mutual support and trust. “Maria’s husband is Sardinian. This couple had a gastronomy shop where they sold products from our region. In 2017, he retired, and they told us that the area no longer had a store selling Sardinian products. That’s how the idea of opening our own farm shop came about.”

Cheeses from the heart of Sardinia

In Borore, Sardinian sheep graze in the green countryside, breathing fresh and clean air in an uncontaminated environment that provides all the necessary nourishment for the animals. Giuseppe explains, “We have two main fields. The first field is pristine, where our sheep graze throughout the summer. The second field is divided into a part sown with wheat, where the flock grazes during the winter, and another part where we plant barley, oats, clover, and ryegrass.”

Over the years, the Rubanu brothers’ activity has constantly evolved as they work on breeding methods, livestock feeding, and cheese production. In the 1960s, Giovanni used a boiler heated by the fire below to warm the cheese. One of the few changes made by his two sons was the introduction of a steam generator that cooks the milk through a turbo. Everything else is done manually, from milk preparation to cutting the rennet and shaping the cheeses.

Rubanu cheeses are made from raw milk, exclusively from Sardinian sheep. What characterizes the smoking process of the Fiore Sardo DOP is that today, the two brothers produce it just as their father used to. Giuseppe explains: “We light the fire using exclusively oak wood. The fire produces smoke that pervades the smoking room. The smoke permeates the cheeses and gives them their characteristic aroma. Then, the cheese dries slowly. This smoking process needs to be done for four or five hours for ten consecutive days. Once smoked, we age the forms, turning them every day. When they dry, the oiling phase begins.” Giuseppe adds that they decided to build a second warehouse because the sweet cheeses, if left to rest in the same place where they smoked the Fiore Sardo DOP, would take on the taste of smoke. That’s why they differentiated the production lines.

Every wheel tells a story

When talking about future prospects and new generations, Giuseppe tells us that in a few years, he and Pietro would like to open a retail shop on the farm. When I ask him about the challenges involved in getting the younger generations more involved in the cheese-making sector, he replies, “Although they help me a lot during events, I don’t see my children being so inclined to work in the company. After all, we’re talking about 14 to 16 hours of work, which is a lot. A young person might be intimidated by this prospect of a working life. It’s an extremely variable and unpredictable job: one year can be good, the next not. The price of milk and cheese fluctuates based on market trends. It would be wonderful for me if my children decided to continue our family tradition. The only thing I want to convey to young people reading this is the beauty of constantly working in the open air, in a place that becomes your entire life, your home.”

Giuseppe concludes, “We’ve known many of our customers for over twenty years now; they are like family. They choose us because we embody tradition in every aspect. We’ve maintained exactly what my father did, that type of cheese, produced in that specific way. Each wheel we make is different from the previous one and will be different from the next. Each form has its own story, with a healthy sensory balance that reflects the efforts of our work. The value of our farm lies in the friendly and intimate relationship we build with our customers and the quality of our cheese. That is what we are: artisans of small-scale Sardinian cheese.”

Come and meet the Rubanu brothers for yourself, and taste the delicacies of Sardinia, in the Market at Cheese!

by Cecilia Cacre, [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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