The sign of the goat and the pastures of Amaltea

21 July 2023

The Greeks believed Amaltea was a special goat. She was entrusted with the infant Zeus on Mount Ida in Crete when the god of the sky was still a suckling baby; where she nursed him with her milk, allowing him to grow and fulfill role in the heavens and on Earth. Even today, Amaltea is celebrated by producers of goat cheese.

One of these companies is located in a magical place in Alta Langa, Mombarcaro, a small town with 268 inhabitants in the far east of the province of Cuneo. It is the peak of the Langhe, where, on clear days, you can catch a glimpse of the shimmering sea. This is where Alessandro and Arianna began tending the pastures of Amaltea, embarking on an extraordinary journey, at times as captivating as a tale from Greek mythology.

Neither of them had agricultural backgrounds, nor did they know how to manage a herd of animals, or understand the difference in behaviors of goats and sheep. Yet, they are living proof of what dedication, love, and learning from one’s mistakes can ultimately achieve!

The regenerative pastures of the Alta Langa

They did have one important advantage in their lack of experience: Without rooted traditions to hold onto, they were more open to change because, ultimately, they were accountable only to themselves. Talking to Alessandro on the phone after he took off his beekeeper suit, he summarized their journey briefly, highlighting the key steps: “I started in 2007, and Arianna (who used to work with us at Slow Food) joined me in 2013. The first few years were a result of trial and error, but for the past three to four years, we have been focusing on rational pasture management.”

The pastures of Amaltea at Cheese on the Screen

For those who want to learn more about the pastures of Amaltea, you can come to the screening of the documentary “Saving Stable Meadows and Their Beauty” at Cheese on September 15 at 9 p.m., at Biodiversity House. This documentary explores the survival of fragile ecosystems, precious landscapes, the balance established over centuries between plant and animal species, and the work of humans who recognize their value.

Animal efficiency

According to this method, soil, plants, and animals form an ecosystem, and when managed correctly, each can benefit the other. As Alessandro emphasizes, “During an online training, we learned a crucial point: when it comes to pasture management, there is no machine more efficient than the animal.” It’s worth repeating that this, as this theme is at the core of Cheese 2023.

This realization brought about profound changes at relatively low costs, leading to the company’s current structure. Alessandro explains, “We divided the pasture into small portions where many animals concentrate for a short time. Then, we move them to the next portion. This way, the pasture, fertilized by the animals’ droppings, rests just long enough to regenerate before they return, and so on… We learned to think about the right group for optimal grass, satisfying the animals’ needs and the growth of the grass. The result is wonderful milk.”

One step at a time

Now that we understand the backward reasoning, not starting from the cheese product but from the pasture element and the animals on it, it’s easy to comprehend other improvements on the farm. “We learned to bring our 50 goats and 50 sheep to the right pasture at the right time. All of this led to a greater coverage of lush grass, with more robust plants less affected by climate stress.”

“We realized that some pasture plots were fully exposed to the sun. So, caring for our animals’ well-being, we planted fruit trees along the edges to provide shade, and this also became an alternative revenue stream as we started producing cider. Bees joined us too, and they’re essential for pollinating the apple trees.”

On the horizon, the introduction of hens, who will become an integral part of this small, complex ecosystem that embraces diversity.

And the cheeses?

The cheeses are products of the pastures and the milk from a cross between Langa sheep and Lacaune sheep, and Camosciata Alpine goats. As Alessandro says, “Our cheeses reflect all this naturalness and seasonality. Those made in March are different from those in October, and in general, during summer, we get products with stronger flavors.”

This results from the harmonious ecosystem, offering different emotions each day. “Our cheeses are not part of a PDO. Among our cheeses are Murazzano, made solely from sheep’s milk, and robiola, made solely from goat’s milk, the head-shaped cheese from sheep’s milk, the wild and aromatic cheese from goat’s milk… Surprisingly, even among the younger generation, the strong taste of bruss has been a revelation!”

Want to try the cheeses from the Pascoli di Amaltea before or after Cheese 2023? You can find them at the Earth Market in Alba, in various restaurants in the Langhe, and even in Milan, where their value is increasingly recognized. You can also visit their farm in Mombarcaro, where Amaltea’s dream lives on.

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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