For the last few decades, when I describe Alaskans and why I love to live there I have said, “We are an entire state of Pecora Neros – black sheep. While we didn’t see any black sheep this morning we did see a herd of 100 shaggy, dirty Sardenian pecoras. At 6:50 AM we squeezed into a trio of Fiats and headed straight up. For at least 20 minutes we wound our way up the side of a mountain till we finally reached a plateau near the top. I thought we were there when we slowed down right in front of what appeared to be a very large and quite elaborately done entrance gate. It looked like a grand entry, new and freshly painted with roof tiles that were neither cracked nor covered with black mold – clearly this was signaling something quite special on the other side. As we aligned directly in front of it I saw that it was actually a shrine to the Virgin Mary. These shrines are everywhere along the road, on the corners of buildings and tucked into the concrete walls of private homes, but I have never seen one so elaborate as this one. We moved on a few meters and then turned down the trail to our destination – not nearly as grand. This was the small sheep farm of a true artisan cheesemaker.
One lone man, probably in his 50’s, tended the sheep, milked them (a few extra hands for that in the morning) and then made the cheese, twice a day, every day of the year except for a respite from July to November, when the sheep were pregnant. That he did all that by himself was amazing and his tiny room with the bare necessities was his home away from home. His wife and grown children lived elsewhere. I can only hope he went home sometime during the day. But to see where and how he made the percorino cheese was truly a beautiful gift.
The small hammered aluminum vat, hovering over a propane fire, surrounded by tile to preserve the heat, a few small implements for breaking the cord to stirring the ricotta after the first cheese is made, a small sink and a wooden draining board. It would never fly in the USA, but it is what makes Italy, Italy. Small artisans making bread and cheese and growing fruits and nuts and vegetables and selling them to each other is the ultimate locavore heaven. No one gets rich doing this, but they speak of passion for the work they do and you can taste it in the food.
Here are some amazing photos and if I can load a video you will be entranced.