Cheeses and Dairy Products
In a region surrounded by the sea, but with a large number of the built up areas positioned in the nearby inland, the farming tradition, made up from sheep farming and stock-farming, has developed and reached levels of quality and quantity of production to be able to offer the dairy market a significant selection of products. It is enough to think that, with Sardinia and Sicily, Calabria is in the first place for the number of sheep and goats spread over every type of pastureland. The pastures range from those at lower heights overlooking the sea, surrounded by the fragrances and the colours of the Mediterranean maquis vegetation, to those on the mountainous expanses of the areas of the Aspromonte and the Sila, where the air is heavy with the scent of the conifers. Many sheep and goats, over six hundred and twenty thousand heads, but also herds of cattle which ensure the production of cows’ milk, indispensable for making a whole series of different cheeses. The types and shapes do not vary very much, but compared to those of other regions, the products of the Calabrian dairy industry have a fragrance all of their own.
This is the Calabrian equivalent of the burrini from Puglia. It has the shape of a caciocavallo cheese, it weighs one hundred and fifty-two hundred grams (five to seven ounces) and is filled with buttermilk. To ensure a better preservation, the external layer is sometimes covered with a layer of wax. The areas where it is pro to preserve it better. The best known areas where it is produced are those of Acquaformosa, Cariati, Cassano allo Ionio, Castrovillari, Civita, Frascineto, Roggiano Gravina, Rogliano, Rossano and San Marco Argentano in the province of Cosenza, in the province of Crotone and Antonimina in the province of Reggio Calabria. In particular, the cheese obtained from annicchiariche cows, those which have given birth in the previous year, is highly sought after.
CACIOCAVALLO SILANO (from the Sila area)
Protected by the law concerning typical types of cheese, this cheese is amongst the more well known and most popular cheeses of the South of Italy.
It covers a very large area, from the region of the Molise to the Straits of Messina, but the denomination certifies a Calabrian origin which dates back to the beginning of time.
It is a semi-hard cheese with a stringy texture, produced exclusively with cows’ milk and matured for a minimum time of fifteen days. It is pear- or flask-like in shape with a small ‘head’ and tied at the neck by suitable strings; a tradition characteristic is that they are tied in pairs which allows them to be matured "a cavallo", astride a pole. It is this custom which gives its name to the product: a presumed connection with a similar cheese made by ancient Mongolian peoples from horses’ milk seems improbable. The contrary hypothesis is much more likely, and that is that, over the centuries, the formula was exported from our peninsula to other countries, and in particular, to the Orient. This hypothesis is backed by the presence of a qasqaval in Turkey, a kackavalj in Bosnia, a katschkaval in Bulgaria and cheeses of similar denominations in Russia, Rumania and Hungary. In the area around Naples in the last centuries, "to end up like a caciocavallo" meant to die by hanging.
This cheese is coded in detail by the decree which, in May 1993, recognised the ‘denomination of origin’ for cheeses (the declaration of typicality dates back to 1955). European Community has conceded it the ‘denomination of protected origin’. The brand-mark which gives the guarantee of authenticity portrays a pine-tree; there is a very active Consortium of protection which is based in Cosenza since 1993. The milk, exclusively cows’ milk and not skimmed, is curdled at a temperature of 36-38░C (96 – 100░F) using a rennet in paste (from a veal or a kid). The breaking of the curd leads to the formation of lumps about the size of a hazelnut. Next comes the phase of maturation, which consists of an energetic fermentation which, on average, lasts four to ten hours. The maturation is complete when the cheese is stringy. To be sure of this, the cheese-maker puts a small part of the cheese into very hot water and pulls it firmly; if the piece of cheese breaks, then this means that the cheese is still sour. Once he is sure that the cheese is stringy, the cheese-maker processes it to obtain a kind of long cord to be able to mould. The texture of the cheese must be quite compressed so that the external surface is perfectly smooth and the inside is without holes. After these operations, all that remains is to cut the cord into many pieces of the desired size, to close each piece at the top, dipping the tip into boiling water, and to complete the final finishing by hand. To give the future caciocavallo cheese the traditional shape, the little ‘head’ needs to be formed (some places do not bother doing this). The final shapes are now dipped first into cooling water, and then into brine for at least six hours. When they are removed from the liquid, they are tied together in pairs and hung astride the special poles for maturation which requires from fifteen days to three or four months or more. The flavour of the product depends on the length of this process: it is ‘sweeter’, or less salty in the case of a short period of maturation, and more salty and intense if the maturation has taken longer. The colour of the rind also varies at the same rate: light yellow for the less mature cheese, and a light brick-orange colour corresponding to the longer maturation.
The rind is, however, thin, smooth and hard, and cheese has a compact texture with a colour which goes from white to straw-yellow. The shape has some dips corresponding to the position of the strings, while the weight varies from a minimum of one kilogram (2 lb 4 oz) and a maximum of two and a half kilograms (5 lb 10 oz).
The non mature caciocavallo is a table cheese: its flavour is delicate, pleasant, not too salty and “meltable”. The taste of the well-matured product is, rather, decidedly spicy and flavoursome, adapt for using in cooking and for grating, but also excellent to eat with a good glass of red wine.
Also known as sciungata, is a fresh, creamy cheese with a soft and delicate texture. It is prepared with sheep's milk and, traditionally, was one of the typical products made by shepherds during the periods of transhumance. Today it can be found in some grocery shops mostly in the Sila area, and it is eaten very fresh, spread on bread.
This is a particular version of the pecorino from Crotone, included in the DOC (Denomination of Controlled Origin) classifications. The smoking lasts for a few days, the drying for a few weeks. The cylindrical shaped cheeses weigh two to three hundred grams (7 to 10 ounces), the cheese is white in colour and the colour of the rind depends on the length of the smoking process; the flavour is not too salty with a tendency to being spicy. Of particular interest is a pecorino cheese with grains of pepper.
PECORINO CROTONESE (from Crotone)
This is a hard textured cheese, semi-cooked and produced from whole fat sheep’s milk (the addition of up to 20 per cent of goats’ milk is permitted). It can boast the denomination of controlled origin guarantee. The area of production includes all the comuni (municipalities) in the province of Crotone, and part of the provinces of Catanzaro and Cosenza. The animals from which the milk is taken must be nourished for at least 60 per cent in pastureland or with fresh products.
Kids’ rennet is added to the milk heated to a temperature of 36-38░C (96-100░F); the time Curdling takes from forty to fifty minutes. After breaking, the curd is in large lumps like grains of rice: the cheesemaker cooks the cheese at 40-45░C (104-113░F) for about five minutes, then, when it been left to stand and has settled, the cheese is transferred to the special wicker-basket moulds and pressed down to expel any excess whey.
The salting may be carried out dry or in brine, and the maturation lasts from three months to one year. The cheese’s straw-yellow rind with characteristic marks from the wicker-basket moulds is easily recognisable; the colour darkens with time. The texture of the cheese is compact and sometimes with a slight holing effect. The colour of the fresh cheese is white which becomes slightly straw-yellow after maturation: the cheeses normally weigh about two kilograms (two and a half pounds). The flavour is harmonious and delicate: over time it becomes more flavoursome and spicy.
The proposal of the fresh-matured alternative. This is frequently used as an ingredient for various culinary dishes and is often used as a grating cheese. It is also enjoyed in certain types of salads.
This is a particular type of dairy product, obtained not beginning from the whey, as is usually the case with the preparation of cheeses, but from milk mixed with whey and salt. The milk can be sheep’s, goats’, or a mixture of the two; the whey used most often derives from the processing of pecorino cheese. Sometimes mixed with pecorino, Calabrian ricotta is baked in the oven.
There are smoked or salted versions: made by putting the rush fiscelle on the special mats to dry and to absorb the smoke. The whole process lasts for a few weeks, whereas the maturation can last from two to five or six months. The smoked ricottas have a wrinkly aspect which comes from their contact with the fiscelle and the colour is a varying light or dark brown; the cheeses are cylindrical and weigh between two hundred and three hundred grams (seven to ten ounces). The cheese is white with a compact and fairly soft texture.; the more mature ricottas are a case on their own, being a cheese with a hard texture, ready for grating. The flavour is not salty and slightly spicy, characterised by the agreeable aroma of the smoking process.