Cheeses and Dairy Products
One of the reasons for which Abruzzi is a land of great cheeses is the extraordinary richness of its forage and the consequent quality of the raw material. From time immemorial, the great routes used for the seasonal transferral of animals link, with quite precise itineraries, the summer pastures of the province of Aquila to the winter ones of the plains in the Puglia region. The time spent by the herds and the flocks in the heights of the summer pastures of the Gran Sasso, the Alto Sangro and the Piano delle Cinquemiglia give the buttermilk and the local "appassite" unmistakable flavours and fragrances. There are many places of origin and not all are very well known outside the borders of the region: Atri, Castel del Monte, Campotosto, Scanno, Pizzoli, Pescocostanzo, Arischia, Camarda and Tornareccio are all important names for cheese making in Abruzzi. The cheeses which originate in these places certainly have a more lofty licence for the nobility of their origin.
Giving this caciotta cheese, made from whole sheep’s milk, its particular yellowish colour and its very own, rather pleasant taste, is that pinch of saffron which, according to an ancient tradition, is added to the milk curdled with wild cardoon. The Caciofiore Aquilano cheese, belonging to the family of the pecorino cheeses, is produced in the months of January and February, has a soft texture and is prepared in quite small and shallow moulds. It should be preserved wrapped in wax-paper in the lowest part of the fridge. An excellent table cheese, to be eaten fresh or semi-fresh. It can be used for cooking in some recipes: cut into pieces and mixed with butter, it can be used to dress pasta, or, still cut into pieces, it may be used to top vegetables cooked in butter.
Caciotta is a cheese with a soft and compact texture which is white in colour: the thin rind is golden-yellow in appearance. The differences arise from the quality of the milk, the type of milk enzymes used and the length of the time of maturation.
Caciottas are produced and commercialised in all the provinces of Abruzzi: those who prefer the fragrances of mountain pastures will choose the cheeses made with the milk of cows kept grazing in the meadows; those who are more fond of stronger flavours will be looking for cheeses matured at length. Some add sheep’s milk to give the product a spicier taste. Another variation, claimed by the producers of Erice and Fara Filiorum Petri, is the addition of finely chopped chilli pepper to the curd.
Although the name is the same as that of the famous dairy product from the Puglia region, this is something completely different. It is a junket of sheep’s milk flavoured with coffee and lemon rind, eaten as a dessert on Ascension Day.
Amongst the many varieties of pecorino cheese, the cheese from Farindola merits a special mention: it is produced in the village of the same name which is located on the left hand slopes of the Gran Sasso, not far from Penne and from Loreto Aprutino.
It is a very particular type of pecorino, with a strong and characteristic flavour due to the fact that it is born with the help of rennet taken from a pig’s stomach cut into strips and then “bottled” with a good quality red wine.
A land of shepherds and pastures, the Abruzzi region has always produced a pecorino cheese of excellent quality, with characteristics which are changeable according to the technique and the type of milk used.
Normally, the Abruzzi pecorino requires whole sheep’s milk, which is heated in a tin-plated copper cauldron to a temperature of 35-38°C (95-100°F) when the (liquid) rennet is added. It is then necessary to wait about one hour for the breaking of the curd which the cheesemaker then leaves to drip in the special moulds. After a few days, a massage with coarse salt completes the preparation: from this moment, all that remains is for the moulds of cheese to mature. In fact, the flavour of the pecorino depends for the most part on how long it has been left to mature. In the large family of Abruzzi pecorinos, the ones to remember especially are those “with the tear” from Altri and Pizzoli, various types of “erborinato” cheese, the one from the “high pastures” which originates in Pietracamela and the important productions of Scerni, Castel del Monte and Montone di Mosciano.
The cheese can be eaten fresh (as a hors d’oeuvres, a dessert or even on its own) or matured: the presentation at the table of a pecorino cheese which has matured for two years is considered by connoisseurs to be top grade. The mature cheese has a more intense and full bodied flavour, a harder and more compact texture; the flavour of the younger cheese is reminiscent of the fragrances of meadows and the scents of woodland.
Pecorino is used a great deal for grating in many of the dishes of Abruzzi cuisine. The best well known use is that of flavouring the «scrippelle 'mbusse».
SCAMORZA FROM RIVISONDOLI
The symbol and pride of the Abruzzi artisan alimentary sector belongs to the family of dairy products of a ‘stringy’ texture. It has the characteristic pear-shape of the mozzarella, but is more compact. It is made from cows’ milk.
After the processing and the preparation, the mould of cheese is cooled and then immersed in brine. Finally, the cheeses are tied together in couples around the neck and left to mature, in the same way as for caciocavallo cheeses, hung from a rod.
The cheese is ivory-white in colour, buttery, very delicate in flavour with a smooth and dry skin. The moulds generally weigh between one hundred and fifty and two hundred grams (five to seven ounces). It is a typical, fresh cheese which should be eaten within two or three days.
There is also a type of smoked scamorza, with a drier and more compact texture, a skin which tends towards a brown colour and a very sharp flavour. This cheese can be matured for longer..
Fresh scamorza is essentially a table cheese, whereas the smoked version can also be sliced up and grilled. In some cases, connoisseurs recommend grilling the scamorza on a skewer.