The White Modenese Cow: milk from the hills

18 August 2021

Bazzano is a village in Valsamoggia, on the Apennine side of the valley formed by the Samoggia stream that runs down through the hills towards Bologna and the border with the Province of Modena. This is where we find La Zaira, a wine bar with a kitchen run by Belinda Cuniberti together with her husband Paolo, members of the Slow Food Cooks’ Alliance.

The Cooks’ Alliance is hosting a series of Taste Workshops at Cheese dedicated to the homonymous product as well as different approaches to meat that are cleaner, more sustainable and mindful of animal welfare.

La Zaira is the protagonist at Taste Workshop on September 17 at 4.30 p.m., where they propose Bolognese lamb meat from an Artusi recipe and a crème caramel made with milk from the White Modenese cow, a Slow Food Presidium, and made by Paolo Parmeggiani of the Trattoria del Borgo di Monteveglio.

Slow Meat, and the milk of local breeds

White Modenese Cow
Parmigiano Reggiano from White Modenese Cows, Slow Food Presidium. Photo: Marcello Marengo

Thus, considering the animals is something we do in more than one respect.

On the one hand, there’s the use of alternative meats to beef, pork and poultry, which are the most common. This imbalance, whereby the vast majority of meat we consume comes from such a small number of species, encourages the industrialization of farming. The market pushes farmers to raise animals intensively, and with just a handful of species. If instead we learn to vary our diet we can contribute to reducing the pressure that this industry puts on the environment.

On the other hand, there’s the biodiversity of local breeds and their products. In particular, the White Modenese Cow, a Slow Food Presidium, produces a milk with a great balance of fat and protein that’s perfectly-suited for making Parmigiano Reggiano and dairy products in general. In this Workshop, we’ll explore this goodness by tasting, among other things, a crème caramel made using White Modenese milk.

Take part in the Taste Workshop, The cooks’ alliance: emilia romagna, artusi and parmigiano reggiano on September 17 at 4.30 p.m.

In the kitchen of La Zaira

Cappelletti at La Zaira with White Modenese ricotta, rolled pasta, garlic, fresh chard and fresh parsley. Photo: La Zaira

To learn more, we visited the kitchen of La Zaira to speak to Belinda Cuniberti. This place has gone through many transformations over the years, starting as a home catering service in 2002, and finally becoming the wine bar with kitchen that we know today. As Belinda say, “We tried to fill a gap in the local area. We were passionate about natural wine, organic and biodynamic. We looked for it in the local bars, and eventually created our own bar, with a wide choice of these wines together with simple dishes made with local ingredients. We were a little ahead of the curve in this respect, perhaps.”

“Over the years, our bar has gained a loyal customer base from nearby towns, even more so than the people from our village. Then Italian and foreign tourists started coming, interested in wandering a little off the beaten path, or slow travel as we might call it. This was possible because of the local network of  ViviValsamoggia is a collective project that brings together restaurants, wine bars, producers: place that can help visitors explore this rich land that has lots to offer. The secret of our cooking is simplicity and the recognizability of the dishes. It’s no accident that spaghetti with tomato sauce is one of our signature dishes: but only with ingredients of the highest quality. We make it using spaghetti from Pastificio Cavalieri with a sauce of local tomatoes, taggiasche olive, capers and oregano from Pantelleria. It’s one of the most traditional Italian dishes, a sensory heritage that belongs to all of us!”

Confronting an emergency

Local, season vegetables at La Zaira. Photo: La Zaira

The most recent transformation of La Zaira came because of Covid-19. As Belinda explains, “ever since the first lockdown we took action immediately. We’d just breaded 70 Bolognese schnitzels. If we’d not been able to find a solution we would have had to throw them away. And that’s how we started doing delivery. Schnitzels, burgers and other suitable dishes. This allowed us to stay in touch with our customers, and it went so well that we opened a new business:  Ciapasò (which means “take out food” in local dialect) is our delivery hub: we offer hamburgers and several recipes made with seasonal vegetables which we get from a local garden. Ciapasò is also a place that people can come to pick up orders made from local producers.”

The influence of Artusi

At Cheese La Zaira offers a dish that pays homage to the father of gastronomy in Emilia Romagna, in Italy and perhaps the whole world: Pellegrino Artusi and his Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well. We’re at recipe 313 here: “Prepare the schnitzels and soak them in egg with a thin slice of prosciutto of the same dimensions as the schnitzel. Bread the meat with the slice of prosciutto on top, add a little salt and brown it in butter on the side without the prosciutto. Put thin slice of Parmigiano or Gruyere on top of the prosciutto, fishing cooking it and serve with a sauce of meat and lemon zest, or a tomato sauce.”

Ready to taste La Zaira’s interpretation, which uses lamb meat and Parmigiano Reggiano from White Modenese cows? We’ll see you there, where you can meet other members of the Slow Food Cooks’ Alliance and discover their recipes!

by Silvia Ceriani,