Discovering exceptional cheeses
As the clouds and mist descended on the mountains, we could feel the temperatures cooling as we ascended towards Roberta and her family’s farm in Auletta, near to the region of Basilicata which has been held in the family for over 3 generations. The farm is home to a heard of 300 free pasture goats and sheep which graze on the fresh mountainside spring herbs, giving Roberta’s cheese its exceptional flavour.
Roberta took some time out of her busy day running the farm to show us around and explain to us why the cheeses she produces are so unique. Roberta starts by explaining how the flavours are created- ‘Goats are put into the wild as the herbs come into season at the end of Feb until around end May/June. As we produce solely by hand our production is limited, throughout the spring season our goats and sheep are eating different herbs in the wild pastures of our mountainsides, which change as the season evolves. These changes in the herb’s growth as well as the waxing and waning of the seasonal growth, affect the quality of the milk which takes on different tonalities and fat content depending on when, during that seasonal timescale the milk was harvested. You will therefore taste different kinds of cheeses in terms of flavour depending on where in that journey, that window of time, of that particular year, you let your animals out to forage.’
‘Less rain, the herbs have less water so the flavours are more concentrated, the goats eat less when the herbs are full and eat more when the herbs are not; so you get this change in tonalities as the seasons evolve. The differences in taste in this cheese can change from day to day and across the season, which is what buying natural products is all about.’
April is a peak time for cheese production here in Auletta, as the herbs are at their peak and this is the best time to book your cheese if you want it seasoned.
Whilst at the farm we tried a beautiful pecorino cheese with 8 months of seasoning which for a Pecorino is brilliant, yet still it’s fresh and has the most incredible flavour profiles. All milk is un-pasteurised, as the goats graze in the wild the product has a very low bacterial count which is in the norms of safety and comparable to levels found in pasteurised cheese. As a result, with this approach you achieve a far higher quality and nutritional value maintaining phytonutrients and all other elements which are present inside the herb which are then processed at an enzymatic level by the goats, coming to us at the table unadulterated.
18 months is the oldest matured cheese Roberta produces, she explained to us how the moulds you see on the rind are by design. Those moulds come as a result of fungal spores that settle and then grow on top of the rind and then into the cheese itself through a mycelium root network; this is typical of fungal colonies; this affects the structures of some of the protein chains and the fats that are present inside the cheese which in turn affects the structural flavours as well. The cheeses are then washed prior to consumption, but when seasoning and maturing the mould is very important because it helps create the unique body and soul of this unique natural product.
All of Roberta’s heard are milked by hand following the centuries old traditional methods of production. She follows the same process that has been passed down through the centuries, all the wat back to Roman times, the same formula, the same concept of that time is still being used to this very day. These are the real cheeses which Italy produces by people who have been emersed in this culture since the beginning. After all, things of quality always take time.
We are proud to serve Roberta’s cheeses at the cooking school.