If I were to list all the cheese I have tasted, this post would be monumental. Let’s say that I eat slightly more cheese than the average cheese lover. My work with Gambero Rosso in the last six months has contributed to that. What I tasted during the filming of “ABCheese” was only a fraction of the cheese produced in Italy, yet in a total of ten episodes of Season 1, I ended up “deepening my knowledge” of at least two products in each segment. That’s a lot of cheese.
In the course of the scouting and the filming of the show I explored some of the cheeses of Lazio – the region of which Rome is the capital – then proceeded to find out more about favorite dairy products made in Campania (Naples, Amalfi, Sorrento plus other locations belonging to this region). After a cheesy visit to Umbria, I also perused the hilltops and mountains of Abruzzo to find some of the region’s best cacio. Next, I drove my car a little further north to Tuscany and ate my weight in pecorino. By the time I hit Romagna, and investigated two of the area’s most representative Protected Denomination of Origin cheeses (PDO in English or DOP in Italian), we had to appoint someone to roll me, for I could no longer walk. The final food coma happened in Lombardia, where I uncovered the secret behind some of the region’s best formaggi, promising to return in order to complete the task (Lombardia is a rather large territory boasting 58+ different types of cheese).
Now that filming is over and the show is airing on Italian satellite TV, it feels good to flip through my camera roll, finding memories of the places, people and products I discovered. Today I want to share some photos I took behind the scenes during filming in Abruzzo this past September. Abruzzo is a part of Italy that is very dear to me. Now, after tasting some of the cheese made there, even more so.
This is a picture I took of the sheep I adopted in Abruzzo. Isn’t she adorable? Her name is Fiocco di Lana. She provides the milk for the cheese I get shipped thanks to my adoption, and her fleece spun into yarn. The idea was so fun we actually used this in the Abruzzo episode.
This is the man I adopted her from, his name is Nunzio Marcelli. Doesn’t he look like a furry Karl Marx? His agriturismo Porta dei Parchi is great place to unplug.
Nunzio’s specialty is the ricotta, which he produces on the farm. Ricotta is the perfect example of how crafty our pastoral ancestors were, and how they cleverly employed leftovers – a concept I greatly care about. The whey squeezed out of curds destined for cheese is not discarded, rather re-employed for ricotta: it is re-heated to the point of becoming like pudding, and collected in perforated baskets. The best way to enjoy ricotta is eating it fresh, straight out of the container with a large spoon. But it can also be used in recipes, or smeared on toast and dusted with sugar. Ricotta can furthermore be enhanced with additional aging procedures: baked, salted, flavored with herbs and smothered with smoke.
Abruzzo is so beautiful! The areas I visited during filming were Scanno, Anversa degli Abruzzi and Cocullo.
The happy, grass-fed cows pictured above belong to Gregorio Rotolo, a bear-like shepherd/cheese maker/farmer who is passionate about his work. He is a good friend and his cheeses made with certified organic raw milk are amazing, I can’t wait to go visit him again in his Bio Agriturismo Valle Scannese.
You can read more about the cheeses of Abruzzo I tasted in this article published (in Italian) on Gambero Rosso.
In the meantime, my quest for Italy’s best cheese continues, because with the cheeses I tasted in Abruzzo, I merely scratched the surface…
Eleonora Baldwin is a TV host, freelance food and travel writer, and culinary connoisseur based in Rome, Italy. Her writing appears in several food and travel publications. Her shows “ABCheese” and “Uazz’america” are broadcast on Italian food network Gambero Rosso Channel. Her podcast “iCheese” is recorded live on the Radio Food Live network.