We at Artviva have little to no resistance when it comes to tasting delicious Italian cheese varieties, the best gelato in the world, the delicious hand-made chocolates found in little boutiques along cobbled laneways, or to delicious creamy and cheesy meals – and certainly not when it comes to dairy-laden Tuscan desserts.
But the ‘Dairy Resistance’ (or, ‘Resistenza Casearia’ in Italian) has nothing to do with just saying no to one last dairy serving (and we’d never support it if it did!).
Rather it is a Slow Food project designed to protect Bitto cheese-producers in Abruzzo.
‘Bitto’ comes from the Celtic word for ‘eternal’. Given the unchanged nature of the production techniques, the name of this cheese has proven throughout the centuries to be certainly pertinent. It is said to have Celtic origins from when the Romans forced the Celtic dairy farmers to move to these pastures where production takes place to this day.
Producing Bitto cheese involves cattle and goat herding, milking and the cheese making all occurring out on the pasture just moments after the milking.
Made from a blend of cow and goat’s milk being mixed together whilst still warm, the milks are poured into the traditional bell-shaped copper. The liquid is then slowly heated over a wood fire inside a small stone structure on the field itself.
Next, the mixture is poured into a special wooden container where the cheese is able to breathe through the staves. And as with wine aged in barrels, the various wood varieties found locally also imbue a unique flavour to the end-product.
The field hut in which the cheese is produced is known as a calécc. It is built from large stones expertly puzzled together to create low walls covered by a fabric ‘roof’, which is removed when the herdsman moves to the next field over.
As Bitto needs to be aged from four months to several years, the cheese rounds are transferred to a ‘casera’ near the fields where they are stored for the period of ageing.
The final product is a cheese wheel of up to about 50 cm in diameter and 9 kilos in weight. The cheese itself can be simply sliced and savoured, or even grated over dishes to add an extra special finish.
With larger cheese producers making more common cheese varieties being able to utilise more modern methods of cheese production, it is very hard for Bitto producers to continue with their age-old trade. What’s more, there are very few numbers of the specific goat breed required for the production as well.
The Dairy Resistance was created with the aim of protecting small producers whose product is under threat by large cheese manufacturers.
The ‘Bitto Storico’ consortium is also working to help protect the traditional production against globalization squeezing small producers out of the market.
Slow Food are offering 2008-2009-2010 1-kilo Bitto cheese packs (total of 3 kilo) to help defend Bitto producers as part of the Slow Food ‘Resistenza Casearia’ initiative.
Find out more about the Slow Food’s ‘Resistenza Casearia’ (in Italian).
You can also find your nearest Slow Food group.
If you would like to learn more about fresh produce and wholefood production, you could sign up for a market tour and cooking class in Florence, where you will learn about the traditional ingredients before heading to the kitchen to turn the products into delicious, typical dishes and then indulging in a sumptuous lunch made by you!
Exploring the Tuscany’s wine country also offers a fantastic way to learn about ? and taste ? delicious Tuscan wines, and enjoy the meals (and views!) they are best served with.
Artviva is a proud supporter and member of Slow Food, and specialises in small-group, quality (and fun) tours in Florence/Tuscany, Rome, Venice and beyond. Visit www.italy.artviva.com for more information, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.