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Archive for October, 2006

Saffron

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Crocus Sativus: the flower that brings us saffron
Piero and Raffa planted saffron crocuses (Crocus sativus) last year as part of a trial program sponsored by the local government to determine whether Piedmont could produce salable saffron. They had a very successful harvest and the saffron received a top grade by analysts. Although the [...]

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Andrea, Elena, and Vanessa a tavola
I haven’t seen Andrea in four years. We met five years ago while working on a farm in Tuscany together and quickly became friends. Andrea’s story is that he grew up in Aosta, the largest city in Valle d’Aosta, and was on track to become a career banker. [...]

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Vanessa enjoys the crisp air and view from Piero and Raffa’s porch
Vanessa and I have completed our crash course in shepherding and returned to the north of Italy. We have a few days to kill before the start of Slow Food’s biennial Terra Madre event in Torino, so we have taken [...]

The Tratturo

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Mario and Vanessa lead the sheep along a tratturo
In addition to learning about sheep, shepherding, cheese-making, working farm dogs, and horses, Vanessa and I have been introduced to one of Italy’s most ancient signs of human activity: the Tratturo.
Shepherding in Italy dates to prehistory, and before barns and hay [...]

Ricotta

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Ricotta is a byproduct of the cheese-making process. The word translates as “re-cooked”, and refers to the re-heating of the remaining whey after the curds have been removed for cheese. Sheep’s milk has a higher fat content than cow’s milk and the same is true of cheese made [...]

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All of this work with the sheep has one main purpose: to produce high-quality milk that will be transformed into pecorino, Italian sheep’s milk cheese. Carmella heads up the cheese-making here at Colavecchio Borraro farm, and she has shown me the process from start to finish. Everything is done under strict standards of [...]

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When we are at pasture with the sheep, Vanessa and I have the pleasure of working with Jackie, Mario’s border collie in training. She hasn’t perfected all of her commands, but mostly she gets them right, and makes our job much easier. The commands for collies are all in English (although Mario has [...]

A Star is Born

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Stella, only a few hours after her birth.
Lady, Mario’s pregnant horse, carried me all day yesterday without complaint as we drove the sheep from one field to the next. I even had her at a full gallop at one point. Mario had estimated that she had another five weeks until she [...]

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I spent all of yesterday alone with the sheep at pasture. I rode a pregnant horse named Lady to some of the more distant fields where the sheep had plenty to eat. Mario and Carmella, the sheep’s owners and cheese-makers, do not own the fields where the sheep graze. Instead, they make special [...]

Shepherds

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Mario on horseback with his sheep following
After an overnight train ride down the Adriatic Coast, during which Vanessa and I were nearly robbed by two thugs, we have arrived at Colavecchio Borraro Farm in the mountains of Molise. Forty-five minutes west through the mountains by car is Naples, and [...]

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