I was recently in Irpinia filming new episodes of my show ABCheese, and discovered a sensational, yet underrated area of Italy. I also discovered caciocavallo impiccato. But more on that later.
Visiting small, family-run farms always means getting to know the farmers, animal handlers and cheese makers intimately. Microphones are taped to our bodies and we sometimes learn of each other directly on camera, seeing the animals grazing in the fields, watching the transformation of milk, and also while savoring the fruits of the family’s hard work. What I was not expecting was the immediate warmth and hospitality of the Irpinia people. Francesco Savoia, his sister Mara, their father Albuino and their mother welcomed me and the crew into their home (which is located above the cheese making facility) like family.
The Savoia family was prepared to meet my cheese gluttony, proudly showing off their cheese production. The farm’s creamery, Caseificio Savoia, makes delicious cow’s milk cheeses from their Pezzata rossa italiana breed cows: caciotta irpina, scamorza, primo sale, probiotic-rich yogurt and an epic caciocavallo: stretched curd cheese that’s hung in a cave to age for 4 months to a year. Phenomenal: the texture under the satiny, tough rind is elastic, sweet and buttery, with a pleasant aroma of hay.
And then when we finished filming the segment came the “spuntino”.
When an Italian suggests having a small snack, referring to it as a spuntino, you should be aware that it can be a gargantuan meal. Especially if there are cheese, bread and wine involved, offered in a homestyle setting. This particular spuntino was so good, unusual and typical of the area – elements that my show tends to favor – that we decided to write it into the episode. This meant that I actually enjoyed this spuntino twice. Once in real life, and again for camera purposes.
The snack in question was melted cheese on bread, but one like I had never seen.
The Irpinia version of raclette – Alpine practice of melting half wheels of Swiss cheese with heated stones or special lamps and scraping it off onto boiled potatoes – is called caciocavallo impiccato, literally, “noose-hung caciocavallo”. I had noticed Albuino, the elderly father firing up a strange barbecue fitted with an adjustable curved arm earlier in the morning as we drove in. While we filmed the pastures, stables and the cheese-making process with Pasquale, the creamery’s skilled casaro (cheese maker), Albuino kept poking and kindling the olive and beechwood twigs until they became embers.
When we were finally done filming, we walked out onto the terrace and found that a rather large aged caciocavallo had been hung on the curved arm over the coals and had quickly started to melt.
As this happened, seasoned asbestos-hands Albuino and son, the fearless Francesco, scraped the melted cheese onto slices of bread and handed them to us. Glasses were filled with hearty house wine and everyone took a break from farm chores to enjoy this pastoral merenda moment. The boom operator had three slices, the cameraman, wolfed down two. I ate four. And then another two for the sake of television.
It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it, right?