Cheeses and Dairy products
The production of dairy products in Molise re-proposes exactly what is also produced in both the Abruzzi and in the bordering Sannio region of Campania. Differences, although very small, do exist and are due more to the methods of processing, to the quality of the products in relation to the types of pasture land, and to the various microclimates which, in certain zones, favour the growth of aromatic herbs which influence the characteristics of the milk and so, in turn, confer special aromas to the dairy products.
CACIOCAVALLO FROM AGNONE
Identical, also in the method of processing, to its brother from Abruzzi, the most well known and most appreciated Molise caciocavallo is the one produced in the territory of Agnone, a mountain village in the heart of the Sannio area, well known for its foundries which have supplied bells to the churches all around the world. The whole territory, where there are select pasturelands for the herds of cattle, is dedicated to its production.
The cheese is obtained from cows’ milk. The addition of the rennet when the milk has been heated to a temperature of about 35°C/95° F conforms to the ancient rules: in the summer, according to the cheese makers, every ten litres (eighteen pints) of milk require three teaspoons of rennet; in the winter, since the milk is richer because the cows feed on dry hay, the dose needs to be increased by up to one teaspoonful of rennet for every litre. As soon as it is ready, the cheese mixture is cut into long, thin pieces and immersed into a cauldron full of tepid whey where it will remain for a maximum period of ten hours. The traditional way of way of controlling whether the mixture had “arrived” was by dipping in a teaspoon: if it was stringy, then the processing could continue onto the next stage, otherwise, it was necessary to leave it soaking still longer. When at last it is ready, the cheese mixture is compressed with the menaturo (a special implement) and then is pulled with the hands until it becomes fibery and shiny. At this point, it is pressed again and wound into the typical form of the caciocavallo, in a pear shape which, finished for the last time in hot water, is put into brine for twenty four hours. Finally, tied together two at a time and hung up straddled over a rod, as the name decrees, the cheese is put into a cool environment where it is dried and seasoned.
A typical proposal of Molise gastronomy is the slice of caciocavallo cheese grilled until golden brown and then served hot with a sprinkling of pepper and some home made bread. This cheese is also the protagonist of a local speciality, a dish called «zuppa alla frosolonese», a substantial and tasty soup which combines the mixture of caciocavallo, small meatballs, hard boiled eggs and endives.
This is very similar to the "cacio marcetto" from Abruzzi, and is just as difficult to find. Starting with a whole, fairly fresh pecorino cheese, a small hole is made in the top of its rind through which a little milk and a few drops of vinegar are poured. This operation determines the acidification of the cheese and the consequent formation of the tiny larvae commonly known as "vermetti del formaggio" (‘small cheese worms’). After twenty days, the cheese will have assumed a soft and creamy consistency, and it is at this moment that the cacio punto has reached its perfection. Spread on slices of toast, it has a pleasantly aggressive and stimulating flavour. This is a speciality which is traditionally served as an antipasto since the characteristics of the cheese are suitable for awakening the appetite.
This is a soft and creamy cheese produced in the cheese factories, but also at home by some housewives. It is, in fact, cows’ or, more often, sheep’s milk which has just curdled and which, in the homemade version, is obtained by putting a pan of milk over heat. As soon as it begins to boil, salt and lemon juice are added which provoke the milk to curdling without having to add rennet. The juncata is collected by the use of a skimmer, drained and placed on a plate.
In some towns of Molise, it is a devotional food which is eaten in particular on an empty stomach on the morning of Ascension day; this cheese is also considered to be a propitiatory food to be offered to family and friends; in fact, it is thought to have the power of good wishes which are able to keep witchcraft at bay.
MOZZARELLA FROM BOJANO
Bojano is a small heavily populated village at the foot of the Matese, where the sources of the Biferno are born. The dairy products produced in this area are famous for their high quality. Although the cheeses are conventionally called mozzarella, they are really ‘fior di latte’.
The mozzarella from Bojano should be eaten as fresh as possible. In the alimentary customs in Molise, it is presented on the table, as are all the fresh dairy products, as an antipasto, and it should be eaten on its own in order to be able to fully appreciate its fragrance to the full – at the very most, with the addition of a few drops of extra virgin olive oil from Molise or Puglia.
PECORINO FROM THE GUGLIONESI
This cheese is produced on the Guglionesi hills, a few kilometres inland from the Adriatic coast of Termoli where, for generations and generations, shepherds and cheese makers have kept their large flocks of sheep pasturing on forty hectares (one hundred acres) of land cultivated with lucerne grass, processing the milk in their cheese factory in the town. The quality of the pecorino and ricotta is of an exceptionally high level.
This is not very different from the other ricottas produced from sheep’s cheese in the regions of the south; it should, however, be pointed out that the ricotta from Molise is a ricotta which is kept for a while to solidify and, as well as being eaten off the cheese board, it is also the main ingredient of a typical dish which is reminiscent of the Greek saganaki: cut into fairly large slices, it is floured, dipped in beaten egg and then in breadcrumbs and finally fried in boiling hot oil and served seasoned with a few drops of lemon juice.