Cheeses and Dairy products
The cheese factories in Lucania have similar kinds of production to those of the bordering regions, with the majority of the cheese being obtained from sheep’s milk which is available in particular abundance. The production of these cheeses goes side by side with the processing of the caciocavallo cheese, which is just as traditional, and other cows’ milk products. The pecorino (sheep’s milk) cheeses are generally of a medium or long term maturation, whereas cows’ milk is mostly transformed into dairy products for fresh consumption in the form of fior di latte (or mozzarella) and caciottine cheeses. The cheeses used for grating are usually pecorino or, more frequently, the cacioricotta cheese which finds its natural setting on the pasta dishes which are nearly always dressed with tomato sauce.
This cheese derives, as its name implies, from the milk of the ancient race of podolica cows brought to Italy by barbarian invaders between the IV and the VI centuries. It is worth just briefly outlining the history. The podolica cows risked extinction in Italy when, in the sixties, the European Economic Community offered a financial contribution for every head which was slaughtered. The cattle breeders in Lucania hid the herds in the woods and thus saved this race with its particular qualities and which, according to experts, generated the Maremmana and Marchigiana races. These are cows which are continually in movement and, consequently, need large extensions of pastureland. Their breeders pay rental for use of this land to the relative owners by means of a certain quantity of cheeses. The production of these cheeses is not particularly abundant because the podolica cow, due to its aforementioned characteristics, simply does not produce large quantities of milk. The milk produced is, however, very rich in fat. The cheese is yellow in colour and the drop of fat at the centre of the slices is an indication of the excellent quality of the product. The cheeses are round in shape, weighing about two kilograms (four and a half pounds), tied at the top, with a thin, shiny rind and the flavour is sweet with a delicate fragrance. At the origin of the many merits of this cheese is the fact that the cows are milked only after they have weaned their calves. In addition, the best period goes from late spring to the end of July when the forage in the meadows is richer, more fragrant and abundant.
The minimum duration for maturing the cheese is six months, but perfection is reached after a year has passed.
It is considered to be one of the most classic and refined of Italian table cheeses.
This is one of the most ancient derivations from milk. It is born from the mixture of goats’ milk with sheep’s milk: the curd, processed by hand, undergoes natural shrinking and is dry-salted. The fresh, soft textured product is ivory white in colour with slight eyeing. With maturation, the texture becomes semi-hard and the colour tends towards a hazel brown. It is usually cylindrical in shape and its weight varies between four hundred grams (fourteen ounces) and one kilogram (two pounds four ounces); the flavour is strong and tangy.
The standard use of the cacioricotta cheese with a semi-hard texture consists in grating it on a dish of orecchiette pasta (a typical pasta in the shape of small ears) or similar pasta with a rich dressing.
In the last decades, a different version of cacioricotta has had success: it is eaten fresh amongst hors d’oeuvres or before dessert. It is a pleasant tasting product with a slightly acidic flavour.
CANESTRATO FROM MOLITERNO
This is another ‘mixed’ cheese, made from goats’ and sheep’s milk in a well populated village of the Val d'Acri: its characteristic is the pressing of the curd, carried out by hand inside the moulds. It is hard and even in texture, of a straw-yellow colour and spicy in flavour; it is cylindrical in shape and the cheeses weigh over two kilograms (four and a half pounds).
CASIEDDU FROM MOLITERNO
This is a version of the cacioricotta cheese which is characterised by the flavour of aromatic herbs which comes from the flavouring of the milk in the initial phases with nepeta (catnip), a plant which is considered to have anti-bacterial properties. It is white in colour and, equipped with these flavours, the fresh casieddu is sold wrapped in a packaging made from ferns tied up with a branch of broom.
LUCANIA MOZZARELLA AND TRECCIONE
This is a much appreciated and widely diffused product in the southern regions, and should be eaten as fresh as is possible. Lucana mozzarella, like other mozzarellas, has a smooth, shiny surface and an even and soft texture without eyeing. The expulsion of milky whey is an essential characteristic which is the guarantee of its freshness.
As well as the usual shapes, in Lucania it is also possible to find another which is worth recording: the treccione (large plait). It is a long plait of cheese which has its connoisseurs; it can be as long as one metre (just over one yard) and has a hard and fibrous texture.
PADRACCIO DEL POLLINO
This is a cheese which is typical of the slopes of the Pollino, made with the un-cooked milk of goats which are taken out to graze; it is spherical or also egg-shaped, from ten to twenty five centimetres (four to 10 inches) in diameter and white in colour. It should be eaten fresh, which restricts its commercialisation: it is also for this reason that many have no knowledge of it outside its region of origin
Being a region of shepherds and pastureland, Lucania can also boast a pecorino cheese of high quality. It is usually cylindrical in form with a thick, yellow coloured rind which becomes brown as the cheese matures. The cheese itself is also a straw-yellow colour with slight eyeing. Its flavour is sharp and is more spicy if kid’s rennet has been used and if the cheese is more mature. It is produced with ancient, artisan methods in many places of the region: the whole sheep’s milk is heated in the concave tin-plated copper cauldron. At 36-40°C (97-104°F), the cheesemaker adds the kid’s and lamb’s rennet. After about thirty minutes, the curd is ready to be broken with the special wheel-like instrument which the operator moves with force to obtain small, grain-sized lumps of curd. At this point, the mixture must be left a while before being wrapped in the usual rush moulds which permit the expulsion of the whey. The next phase is the salting: after having been immersed in the whey, the piece of cheese is placed on the tompagno, the work table, where it is covered with salt or dipped in brine. The next phase is processed by time: it is dried in a cool area and is transferred to other premises for maturing. The process goes from two months to one year.
Usually, it is eaten, but it is not infrequently used for grating. Its use as an ingredient in various culinary preparations is frequent as well as much appreciated.
MIXED PECORINO FROM FILIANO
The difference, compared to a “normal” pecorino cheese, is in the milk: by using goats’ milk together with sheep’s milk, one obtains a cheese which has a sharp and characteristic flavour. A particular variety of mixed cheese is the pecorino from Filiano, on the north-west Apennines, thirty six kilometres (about 20 miles) from Potenza. The processing and the ripening take place inside natural caves or in man-made basement areas.
Every year, on the first weekend of September, the village of Filiano holds a festival to celebrate its famous pecorino cheese. The festival starts on the Saturday with a convention in the striking setting of the Lagopesole Castle where historians, experts and gastronomists discuss the qualities of this cheese.
SALTED RICOTTA AND RICOTTA FORTE
These types of ricotta jump to the attention for the fruitful uses they are put to in cuisine or at the table. Both are obtained with the whey deriving from the processing of pecorino (sheep’s) or caprino (goats’) cheeses. The buttermilk is put back onto the heat after the extraction of the curd: it is left there for a while (from five to fifteen minutes) after the first particles have appeared on the surface. The resulting substance collected in the moulds is left to stand for a day and a night and then finally undergoes the salting. For the ricotta forte cheese, the timings are long. It is necessary to wait until the quantity collected, boiled and drained in the special containers, known as martore, becomes covered with mould; at this point, it is transferred into clay vases which are kept in premises with a controlled temperature of about 25°C (77° F). During this time, the cheese, drying out, begins to show some cracking. At this point, it is mixed up again and returned to the oven. Its flavour is spicy and characteristic.
Ricotta salata can be used as a table cheese, but it is also often used for grating. The cheese has a special flavour which also has a natural tendency to creaminess.
TOMA FROM SHEEP’S OR MIXED MILKS
The Lucana region can also boast a toma cheese amongst its productions, but in this case, the cows’ milk used in many preparations of the same name in North Italy is substituted by sheep’s and goats’ milk. The Lucana toma can, in fact, be made exclusively with sheep’s milk or else mixed, with the addition of sheep’s milk. There are no fixed rules, but it depends on the flocks which supply every cheesemaker. It is a cheese with a non-cooked base which undergoes natural shrinking and salting in brine. Its texture is soft and even, it is of an ivory-white colour and the flavours tends towards sweet. The cylindrical cheeses weigh from one and a half to two kilograms (three and a half to four and a half pounds). The basic time for its maturing is two months, but this can be lengthened.
It is a table cheese which, in the Lucana gastronomic tradition, like in that of the Puglia region, may be presented both with the hors d’oeuvres if it is fresh, and at the moment of the dessert.