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  • Writer's pictureТимофей Милорадович

A great story of cheese

A great story has been written about cheese. The Greeks since Homer knew how to make cheese. And then, from the Byzantine Empire through Sicily and Italy, cheese recipes spread widely throughout Europe. The oldest cheese was made from sheep's milk, it was allowed to coagulate and placed in baskets, as the Greeks and inhabitants of the Byzantine Empire did. In Sicily, they continue to do the same, hence the ribbed surface on the cheese skins - traces of baskets. Those Greek baskets gave the name to the cheese, it is "Caseus Formatus", “Formaticum” (basket), for short "cacio", its variants and synonyms then spread in other languages. Details can be found in dedicated articles. But today I want to comprehend what cheese is in essence. We will do this together with Nicolo Reina, a manager of the Custonaci Tourist Office in Sicily. I will put aside the details of making and let my intuitive understanding of cheese unfold, as something essential, very valuable and pure.

When I look at the cheese, I feel a joyful desire to taste, I am delighted with this hard and at the same time tender mass, to which milk has conveyed its very essence in a form convenient for an adult. The cheese melts in your mouth and satiates. Cheese is never boring, it has the richest palette of taste. If you have cheese, you will not die of hunger, you will have strength. If you have a Sicilian sun-dried tomato or Sicilian wine with your cheese, then you have almost everything you need for nutrition. .. Okay, I can add lemon and nuts .. And I see that this came to other people's minds because they started adding lemon and nuts, herbs and tomatoes to cheese. And it so happened that today there are several dozen of different types of cheese, they have a herbal aroma and a range of tastes from fruity and sweet to salty and spicy. In Sicily, you will also be told what kind of wine should be consumed with a certain type of cheese, not only based on its composition, but also on its maturity, because it can be twelve days or six months and even twelve months old, its taste is changing. And that's why I want to look into the history and recipe of cheese in order to understand why the feeling of tender maternal care comes from cheese, while cheese can feed a person every day and for a whole year. We ask what Nicolo’ thinks about it.

- Hello, Nicolo’.

- Hello, Elena, interesting observations from your side, because intuitively you quite accurately grasp the essence of cheese and its role in our life. Indeed, in the vicinity of Custonaci, one of the oldest human settlements was found, which is twelve thousand years old. And sheep are those cute, meek animals that have been with people since ancient times. Sheep grazing and milking is the most peaceful activity imaginable. When the sheep are happy with the grass you feed them, they give you a good milk yield. And then you need to figure out how to save sheep's milk with gratitude, which is really very valuable and nutritious. This is roughly the story of the emergence of one of the best types of cheese in the world, in my opinion, Pecorino Siciliano.

- I completely agree with you, I will add that there is also Red Pecorino, this is sheep's cheese, which is covered with a layer of tomatoes, and this combination makes me happy, I want to try it immediately. This white, innocent pulp of sheep's cheese, which was ripened in collaboration with the tomatoes of Sicily, is, in my opinion, a masterpiece.

- Elena, you definitely got the principle of Sicily's excellence - it is a community of lovers and loved ones as one whole. The ancient recipe for sheep's cheese made according to the traditional technology with wooden tools and ripened in the Sicilian air with the addition of Sicilian spices is imbued from beginning to end with the spirit of maternal care, our mothers taught us the art of preparing healthy foods. We see the fruits of this teaching: Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD), in his Naturalis Historia, described Pecorino Siciliano as one of the best he had ever eaten, and the warriors also ate this cheese to support cheerfulness. The amazing properties of the cheese can be seen from history, when the Holy Count Roger II, living in Palermo in the 12th century, asked the Sicilians to make something that would help his wife to improve her health, and thus the Piacentino Ennese cheese with saffron was born. Therefore, yes, cheese is the nutritious embodiment of maternal concern, in all its variety of manifestations. It is a universal, unique and very valuable product for humans.

- When I read the history of cheese, I noticed that, according to legend, the shepherd poured milk into the sheep's stomach, the remains of the gastric enzyme and shaking of the travelling shepherd let the milk become cheese. On the one hand, a sheep is sacrificed to make cheese. But even this has a symbolic spiritual meaning, because the enzyme of the sheep's stomach does the job, making it easier for a person to digest the dairy product. After all, it is known that cheese is assimilated by humans by about 90%, better than milk itself.

- Yes, but do not forget that milk coagulation is not always due to the stomach enzyme of young animals that drank and assimilated this milk. Also, plants are used to oxidize milk, the same lemon, for example. The technique of coagulating milk with the help of plants has been known for many centuries, and this is a completely peaceful way of obtaining cheese. Cheese not only feeds human, probably his entire history. Cheese saved Sicily in the middle of the 20th century when cheese could be shipped to mainland Italy, while agriculture, in general, was being destroyed. For example, Tumazzo Modicano cheese has fed generations of people, it saved the Sicilians, and now cheese is what everyone who comes to Sicily wants to try first. It must be understood that Tumazzo Modicano is pure even in the sense that it is salted with sea salt and matures in a microclimate that cannot be artificially faked. Indeed, you can eat a piece of cheese every day, and you will be happy.

- An interesting symbol, if Sicily is mother, then cheese is her milk.

- For this to happen, everything is taken into account in the production of cheese - sheep eat grass that has grown in a favourable place, you know, Cofanetto cheese got its name from Mount Cofano, next to which our sheep love to graze so much. It is very close to Custonaci and these are protected ecologically clean places. Over time, cheese began to be made not only from sheep but also goat and cow milk. This is how Formaggi Storici Siciliani appeared, among them Ragusano, Vastedda Valle del Belice, Provola dei Nebrodi, Maiorchino, Caprino di Girgentana, Fiore Sicano, Ricotta Informata. Cheese can be added with olive oil, olives, herbs and nuts. The cheese can be soft curd cheese like Ricotta Salata, Ricotta Fresca, which is called Madre della pasticceria siciliana. It is easy to make a salad from Ricotta by adding vegetables or fruits. This is not at all the same as, for example, the hard cheeses, Cosacavaddu, known since the fifteenth century, and the equally famous Palermitano.

- And what kind of story is this, when the art of making cheese widely was almost forgotten in the Middle Ages because everyone who knew how to make cheese ended up in monasteries?

- This is an amazing story, I think it only confirms that making cheese is the product of a truly peaceful, empathetic and caring mind. Indeed, the monks kept the cheese recipes, and then, with the advent of the Renaissance, cheese began to appear on the tables of kings, I think it could start with St Roger II, earlier than with others. He could take healing means for his wife only from the kind and caring hands of the monks.

- Okay, let's tell which types of cheese are best for the best Sicilian wines.

- Bright wines like Nero d'Avola, Syrah, Frappato, Merlot are used with Ragusano

Cosacavaddu, Palermitano. To be more precise, you need to get a wine list from our wine connoisseurs, they will be happy to help. Nero d'Avola and Cerasuolo di Vittoria wines also go well with Piacentinu Ennese and Provola Iblea. Wines Syrah, Nero d'Avola, Zibibbo, Passito di Pantelleria go well with Pecorino Siciliano cheese. Wines Nerello mascalese, Syrah go well with Provola dei Nebrodi cheese. Also wines Nerello mascalese, Grecanico go well with Fiore Sicano cheese. With Tumazzo Modicano cheese we serve, rather Etna rosato fresco e semi-stagionato, and Merlot e Syrah per Tumazzo Modicano stagionato(mature). Etna rosso wine goes well with Maiorchino cheese. Vastedda Valle del Belice and Caprino di Girgentana are accompanied by Catarratto, Inzolia, e Grecanico. Inzolia wine goes well with Ricotta Fresca, Ricotta Salata cheese, Grillo and Grecanico wines are used with Ricotta Infornata cheese.

- I want to try it in the way you said. Thank you, Nicolo'.

- We are waiting for everyone to visit us, thank you, Elena.


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