The art of transforming milk is widespread throughout Italy and it provides us with excellent products, ranging from the buffalo mozzarella made in Aversa to the Parmesan cheese. Today, however, we want to tell you about Italian dairy art through a ritual that is often repeated in Campania, a ritual that tastes like summer.
Those who live in Campania, who since childhood have headed to the holiday areas to reach the nearest beaches, know that going towards the wonderful Cilento one cannot help but stop along the way to admire the magnificent green areas of the masters cheesemakers‘ estates, where cows have always been bred and grazed. In particular, when entering the area of Battipaglia, it is possible to spot another animal that is different from the common cows: we are talking about Italian Mediterranean buffalo.
In dairies art takes new life and shape, turning into cheese, yogurt, and ice cream. Many cheesemakers have a store reserved for retail, while others dedicate entire areas of their estates or farms to this purpose.
Stopping in these places to savour the products that have milk as their raw material is not only a gastronomic experience, but it is above all a way to rediscover the taste of small things.
This way of meeting with simple foods is part of that great family of actions and habits that we call our roots.
Milk processing, a profession that comes from afar
Among all peoples milk has always had an economic and religious function: the Jews, for example, measured the fortune of a landowner on the basis of the quantity of milk that his flocks produced.
It might surprise you to know that in ancient times, in northern Europe, horses were the mainly-bred animals. For this reason the Finnic and the German people were called “Ippomolgoi” (mares’ milkers) by the Greeks, because they used equine milk.
When the people finally settled, it was the Greeks who started to practice dairy art on a permanent basis. The shops where milk was processed to obtain cheeses were called “Turopia”, as reported by Marcus Terentius Varro (a Roman literary, grammarian, military and agronomist) in his De Re Rustica.
The Romans then learned the dairy technique from the Greek colonies in southern Italy which they conquered.
After all, milk and cheese were inevitable ingredients in all their dishes, as evidenced by the recipes included in the De Re Coquinaria written by Marcus Gavius Apicius.
During the Middle Ages the production of cheese moved to the villages, and it then moved back to the plains during the age of the municipalities.
In the second half of the 18th century, the dairy sector developed throughout Europe thanks to the progressive technical improvement of the processing methods (for example the introduction of the cream separators) and to the fact that the first zootechnical and dairy schools were born in this period.
A recent story about milk, coming directly from Cilento
Caseificio Chirico (Chirico Dairy) is one of the most famous producers of mozzarella in the mortella.
Muzzarella co’ a mortedda (or int’a’ murtedda) is a typical cheese made in the central area of Cilento.
Where the Mozzarella in the mortella comes from
In ancient times, when there were no refrigerators and no wrappers were used, myrtle was present throughout Cilento. The myrtle is a plant with smooth and non-porous leaves, perfect for packing fresh cheese.
Therefore, the so-called “bunches of mozzarella” were sold: inside each bunch (of about 100 grams) there were ten strips of cheese.
The myrtle acts very well as a natural covering, and at the same time it transfers very special aromas and scents to the mozzarella.
The myrtle is called mortella in the local dialect, and mozzarella prepared in this way is eaten fresh, after a maximum of 5 days. It is a table cheese and it is suitable as an appetizer. It is served with olives, tomatoes, and pickles, and it is seasoned with extra virgin olive oil and a little oregano.
A family history
There are whole families who live to perpetuate the traditions related to milk processing, passing on the secrets of the craft from generation to generation, as well as an approach to life that belongs to those who have turned these productions into an art, thanks to a healthy life dedicated to work.
See what the milk means for Silvia Chirico, a cheesemaker who enhances her ice cream through the flowers that grow in her territory.