This is a story about the processing of raw milk cheese in the very heart of Basilicata. A story featuring a woman and all of her family; a story about a tradition which is characterized by the art of waiting and a boundless passion for this work. There where the Lucanian side of the Pollino National Park begins, among the meadows of the high hill of Chiaromonte, Maria Stellato and her family make high quality cheese using raw milk. This story is closely linked both to tradition and naturalness and features an aging and seasoning process which occurs in the very heart of the mountains: a cave in which the cheese, cured with a little olive oil (which preserves sheep and goat cheeses from any molds) rests for months.
A family story
Around 1950’s, Maria Stellato’s parents-in-law started this business, which was later inherited by her husband. Nowadays, she is the leader and the very soul of this project: a very long production process that also involves her sons, the third generation of ‘’workers in the service of genuineness‘’ which decided to follow their mother’s path. A path which is based on the renewal of traditions and on a complete production cycle: indeed, the workers in this company make dairy animals graze, and they are also involved in fodders, as well as in milking and cheese-making processes. They are also involved in seasoning processes of cheese, for which they only use natural methods with a special regard to the enhancement of biodiversity education thanks to their educational farm.
Here, grazing takes place on the surrounding lands which have plenty of medicinal herbs, such as thyme, pennyroyal and wild fennel. The animals are free to eat these herbs and the resulting aromas are preserved and enhanced by the high-quality raw processing of the milk and by the dry curing.
During seasoning processes, cheese is enriched with the aroma of the rush twig which « represents another traditional element» says Maria Stellato, together with the natural cave (located in the heart of the mountain) which allows the formation of particular molds (which are very closely monitored) which provide the final product an intense flavor.
In this rigorous, slow and risky process (even a single bacterium in the milking room can ruin the entire product) a great attention is still given to the «protection of food biodiversity » in an area such as Pollino, where the respect of nature and its rhythms is a vital issue to maintain a sustainable economy. In this project, pasturage and dairy animals’ well-being, which allow to obtain high quality milk that makes the final product so special, are equally important. This particular kind of cheese is the result of a meticulous and almost entirely manual work, a work in which traditional passion and innovation are blended together to ensure that raw milk can be processed also in August (in the past, it could not be done after April) to begin producing the renowned cacio-ricotta (a traditional Italian semi-soft cheese).
From the stable to the table
«A fundamental step for us – says Maria Stellato – was the creation of the farmhouse » because considering that we own a multifunctional company in which we have a market garden, we produce oil and cheeses, and breed swine, « people used to ask us to taste the flavors of this land in the form of final products on their table».
Nowadays, in contrada(district) Battifarano, a small area situated among Chiaromonte’s mountains, there is a place which not only is perfect to taste local and genuine food, but which also «allows farming inside the Pollino National Park, where the respect for the environment is a fundamental value that we try to bring to table each and every day with our products».
Maria Stellato | Cheese producer