Theory & Practice of Italian Cheese
25–29 May 2014
Professional development course designed and led by Giancarlo Russo, National Coordinator for Slow Food Italy
Learning to make cheese takes an hour. Learning to make good cheese is a lifetime's work. This course will give the novice enough training to make some simple fresh cheeses, but its main aim is to give professional artisan cheesemakers the opportunity to share and enhance their knowledge by working with Tuscan cheesemakers who have been making cheese every day of their lives. Their cheese and ricotta are expressions of an unbroken tradition handed down to them from their parents and grandparents, some made in a single pot from the milk of their own animals and some to which a little modern technology has been applied without obliterating their character. Chefs will deepen their appreciation of Italian cheeses and titillate their palates with the best ricotta you're ever likely to taste.
Course suitable for cheesemakers, chefs and amateurs who want to make their own cheese. Maximum course size: 8 people.
Course at a glance
Arrival at Pisa airport or Pisa train station no later than 2.45 pm (one transfer to agriturismo at Bagni di Lucca around 2.45 pm)
Session 1: Introduction to course and Theory Part 1 by Giancarlo Russo
Welcome dinner with cheese tasting at agriturismo
Session 2: Making caprino (hard goat's milk cheese, unpasteurised milk from own herd) and ricotta by traditional one-pot artisan method with Vitalina Fiori (products: caprino, ricotta)
Typical workers' lunch at local restaurant
Session 3: Theory Part 2 with Giancarlo Russo
Dinner at private Italian home of former chef Gabriella Lazzarini
Session 4: Making cow's milk cheese (unpasteurised milk from own herd) and ricotta by partly mechanised method with Daniela Pagliai (products: vacchino (hard), primo sale (soft fresh), ravaggiolo (soft fresh), stracchino (soft, semi-mature), ricotta, butter, yoghurt)
Lunch with cheesemaker
Session 5: Visit summer alpine pastures
Dinner at family restaurant with silky homemade pasta and game stews
Session 6: Making pecorino (hard sheep's milk cheese, pasteurised and unpasteurised milk from many small shepherds) and ricotta by partly mechanised method with Verano Bertagni (products: soft and hard cheeses of cow's, sheep's and goat's milk; ricotta, butter)
Lunch at Andrea Bertucci's parallel gastronomic universe
Session 7: Cooking lesson with Gabriella Lazzarini: typical Tuscan recipe's using cheese and ricotta
Dinner: Wine and cheese pairing with Giancarlo Russo and eat what you cooked
Session 8: Making mozzarella (buffalo milk, pasta filata) and robiola (soft goat's milk lactic type cheese) and ricotta by partly mechanised method with Pierpaolo Piagneri
Session 9 & lunch: Q&A with Giancarlo over lunch including handmade testaroli
Depart (one transfer from Pontremoli to Pisa airport or train station will be provided after lunch)
Extend your stay – ask about
Course extension Thursday: After lunch continue to Parma for dinner, overnight in hotel. Friday: visit to family producer of parmesan cheese from milk of own herd, visit stagionatore (where parmesan is matured), visit Black Pig of Parma farm, lunch on Black Pig at Prosciutto Bar, tour organic vineyard recovering old vine varieties, wine tasting, stay at 12th-century castle, dinner in restaurant at castle gate. Saturday: transfer to Pisa Airport or train station.
Guided day tours to visit maker of traditional testaroli (cross between flatbread and pasta), visits to vineyards, visit lardo producer and marble quarry, visit sculpture studio at Pietrasanta and much more to choose from.
Arrive Pisa airport or train station and transfer to Agriturismo La Torre, Bagni di Lucca
One pick up no later than 2.45 pm
Session 1: Introduction to course and Theory Part 1 with Giancarlo Russo
- Brief survey of Italian cheese
- The natural environment: pasture and fodder
- The livestock: species, breeds, husbandry, welfare
- The milk: different properties
- What you will do with the cheesemakers
- What to pay attention to during visits to the cheesemakers
Welcome dinner and cheese tasting at agriturismo
You're the judges in an Italy vs England sheep's milk cheese challenge. If you make a sheep's milk cheese, please bring some and add it to the fun.
Breakfast and transfer to cheesemaker
Session 2: One-pot goat cheese and ricotta with Vitalina Fiori
- Caprino: Since Vitalina learned to make cheese from her father rather than in a classroom, she doesn't use thermometers or pH meters. She makes a hard cheese from the unpasteurised milk of her goats, which her husband herds in the surrounding woods and which they milk by hand. She makes between two and four forms a day, heating the milk in a traditional cheese pot over a gas burner on the floor, using animal rennet, cutting the curd with a stick and gathering it with her hands. She ages her cheeses to order from loyal customers who come to the door of her workshop to buy her cheese. Vitalina is a thoughtful cheesemaker and looks forward to having other cheesemakers with whom she can compare notes.
- Ricotta: Vitalina makes ricotta from the whey as soon as she has removed the curd.
- Tasting: You're encouraged to taste the curd and ricotta warm from the pot in the dairy as well as the more mature specimens in the maturing room.
Lunch: typical Italian worker's lunch (no panini!)
Session 3: Theory Part 2 with Giancarlo Russo
- Production: caprino (goat's milk cheese), pecorino (sheep's milk cheese) and vaccino (cow's milk cheese)
- Production: ricotta
- Families of cheese and how to distinguish them
- Stagionatura: maturing cheese
Dinner at an Italian home
Former chef Gabriella Lazzarini has invited us to her home for dinner. She'll prepare some of her favourite dishes using seasonal ingredients, often from her own garden. Her welcome dinner for our Advanced Salumi Course is always judged the best meal of the course.
Breakfast and transfer to cheesemaker
Session 4: Making cows's milk cheese with Daniela Pagliai
By the age of 14 Daniela was in charge of her father's sheep and production of pecorino. She married into a family with a herd of cows and transferred her skills to making vaccino and other cow's milk cheeses.
- Making vaccino, a hard paste cheese destined to be matured for several months
- Making stracchino, a soft cheese matured for about 20 days, originated in the Alps of Lombardy and is an ancestor of taleggio. Today both cheeses are mostly produced industrially, but there are still a few artisan producers, including Daniela.
- Visit to the maturing room
- Tasting of Daniela's cheeses, yoghurt and butter
Lunch with Daniela
Session 5: TranshumanceVisit alpine pasture where Daniela and her family move with their cows in June
Dinner at Buca di Baldabò, Vico Pancellorum
Giovanna, a native of Parma, makes the silkiest pasta I've eaten and her husband Enrico, a hunter, prepares the game stews.
Breakfast and departure from Agriturismo La Torre
Session 6: Making pecorino with Verano Bertagni at Caseificio Bertagni
Verano produces larger quantities of cheese than the other cheesemakers we visit and is the only one who doesn't make his cheese from the milk of his own animals. He knows all his herders personally and makes a good case for his practices.
- Tour of dairy: refrigerated tanks where collected milk is held, milk testing lab, pasteurisation
- Making the cheese
- Making ricotta
Lunch at Il Vecchio Mulino, Castelnuovo
A tasting menu at Andrea's parallel gastronomic universe
Transfer to B&B Villa Lombardi, Camaiore
Session 7: Cooking lesson with Gabriella Lazzarini
Gabriella demonstrates typical Tuscan recipes using cheese and ricotta, including ravioli with ricotta and nettles and torta di ricotta.
Wine and cheese pairing with Giancarlo Russo
Dinner: tutta ricotta (well, not quite)
Breakfast and departure from B&B
Session 8: Lactic-type goat cheese and pasta filata with Pierpaolo Piagneri
- Robiola, a lactic-type goat cheese: the initial and final stages
- Buffalo-milk mozzarella: preparing and working with pasta filata
- Maturing room
- Tasting of cheeses
- Visit to farm and animals
Lunch at Trattoria Da Bussè, Pontremoli
Choose from a menu of typical Lunigiana dishes including handmade testaroli (a cross between flatbread and pasta).
Session 9: Review and Q&A session with Giancarlo Russo
Presentation of course certificates
Transfer to Pisa airport or Pisa train station
Only one transfer to airport or station will be provided after lunch to arrive at airport / station at 5.00 pm).
After lunch travel to Parma
Sightseeing and shopping in Parma, provincial capital of parmigiano, prosciutto and Verdi.
Dinner at Ristorante Cocchi
Ristorante Cocchi serves the traditional cuisine of Parma including bollito misto with all the trimmings.
Accommodation at hotel near parmesan farm
Breakfast and depart hotel
Transfer to Davide Avanzini's farm and dairy Azienda Iris
Raising of the parmesan
Witness the raising of the parmesan from the whey, explanation of whole process from cow to mature cheese, visit cows, tasting of parmesan of different ages
Transfer to Black Pig of Parma farm
Transfer to warehouse where parmesan is matured
Tour of parmesan maturing warehouse
See how parmesan is matured, turned, checked for DOP worthiness, certified or rejected
Lunch on Black Pig prosciutto at Prosciutto Bar
After our tasting lunch it's too late to get to an airport in time for flights out of Italy, so we may as well enjoy ourselves for the rest of the afternoon and go to the airport on Saturday morning.
Transfer to Fosdinovo
Tour wine estate Terenzuola
Owner Ivan Giuliani (nephew of former mayor of NYC) is uniting old and new techniques of wine making and recovering old vine varieties on his organic estate to make wines of excellence. Tour vineyards with Ivan and taste wines.
Dinner at Nigo Pezigo, Fosdinovo
Stay at 12th-century castle
Castello Malaspina di Fosdinovo is still inhabited by the Marquis of Malaspina. He and his wife welcome you to their B&B in the castle, where you are free to explore the restored rooms and ramparts. Rooms are comfortable, but not luxurious — this is a fort, not a stately home. The resident ghost is said to be friendly.
Breakfast and depart castle
Transfer to Pisa airport or train station
La Torre, Bagni di Lucca
The 17th-century complex hosted pilgrims to the spa town of Bagni di Lucca. After passing through many hands, it was abandoned in the 1990s. Current owners Paolo and Laura have fully restored its rustic farmhouse features, while adding modern comforts. En suite bathrooms, swimming pool, on-site restaurant and panoramic views of the staggeringly beautiful mountain landscape.
Villa Lombardi, Camaiore
A family villa that has been restored preserving its historic features. Maria Grazia Lombardi is the perfect hostess and serves mouthwatering breakfasts.
Castello Malaspina di Fosdinovo
The castle was built in the second half of the 12th century by the Malaspina family. The current Marquis Torrigiani Malaspina and his family welcome you to guest rooms in their fort, furnished with antique furniture, en suite bathrooms, internet and a panoramic view of the sea. They are comfortable but not luxurious. You are free to roam the ramparts and explore the towers. The resident ghost is said to be friendly. Castello Malaspina di Fosdinovo
Giancarlo designed and leads our Courses with Artisans Advanced Salumi Course. He was Marketing Director for Mars-Nivea and American Express until he bailed out to adopt a slower, more personally rewarding way of life. Since then he has gained a wide range of qualifications and experience in the field of artisanal food:
- Co-author of Slow Food Guide Salumi d'Italia
- October 2009 — Designed and taught Master of Food Salumi for Slow Food Versilia, a 4-part course covering meaning of terms, history, diffusion of pig, how to taste, cuts of pork, classification of products, pig breeds, influence of system of rearing on quality, the skins (natural and synthetic), how pig is prepared, how cuts are made into final products, function of salt and spices, techniques of ageing and conserving, techniques for dealing with less used animals (goose, horse, etc.), description of the principal cured pork products, purchase and conserving salumi at home, how to slice various types of salumi, salumi and wine, salumi in cooking, tasting of quality Italian salumi.
- Lecturer at Universita' Gastronomica di Pollenzo (Slow Food)
- Master Cheese Taster (ONAF-National Organization of Cheese Tasters)
- Levoni Salumi – 25 focused training sessions for groceries related to tasting techniques for cured meat and identification of defects
- Since 2000 Stagionatori d'Arno (Reggello, FI) – Partner and President of the Board. Start-up activity for selection, ageing, refining and selling of high-quality Tuscan artisanal salumi and cheeses
- Leader of Slow Food Casentino
Vitalina's family has been cheesemakers as far back as anyone can remember. She learned the craft from her grandfather and father. Although they had a handful of sheep and a couple of cows, their herd of goats provided most of the milk for for their cheese, as it still does today. As a young woman Vitalina took a job in a local paint factory where she worked for 20 years. She enjoyed the work, but eventually realised that her frequent stomach aches were caused by the paint fumes and she left the job to concentrate on her family, farm and cheesemaking. The tiny dairy sits at the mouth of the Orrido di Botri, a spectacular gorge in the foothills of the Apennine Mountains. Her husband herds their goats in the woods of the mountainside, and they milk by hand. Vitalina makes a few forms a day of hard cheese from unpasteurised milk; she uses animal rennet and matures the cheeses at least one month on wooden shelves in a stone hut. She makes ricotta from the whey, and the animals get the scotta (liquid left after making ricotta). Most of Vitalina's customers come to her door, despite having to travel on narrow winding roads to reach it. Her ricotta is always sold out, and many of her cheeses are ordered in advance with instructions from the buyer as to how many months they'd like it aged.
Daniela was practically born making cheese. During school holidays she and her dog herded her father's sheep. By the time she was 14 she was in charge of the pigs and all the phases of cheesemaking on the family farm. At 16 she married Valter and discovered that his contribution to the marital economy was a herd of milk cows. She moved to her in-law's farm and transferred her cheesemaking skills to cow's milk. After five years she and Valter realised their dream of buying their own farm on which they now produce organic cheeses, yoghurt and butter. They practise a short transhumance taking the cows to higher alpine pastures for the summer, whereas during the snowy winter months they are kept in stalls and fed organic hay from the farm. Although Daniela uses modern equipment for making cheese, she cuts the curd by hand and ladles the curd into the moulds. In addition to traditional hard cow's milk cheese and ricotta, she also makes fresh primo sale, ravaggiolo and stracchino. She sells from her farm shop and at fairs, as well as to small shops in the territory.
Verano is a modern cheesemaker with his feet rooted in tradition. The Bertagni family were shepherds and cheesemakers for generations, originating in the village of Brica, in the Soraggio Valley on the Garfagnana side of the Tosco-Emiliano Apennines. It was Verano's father who decided to stop tending flocks and move about 25 km south to the town of Pieve Fosciana where he established a small dairy, making cheese from milk they collect from other herders. Although they have modernised, using machines to chill, pasteurise (only some of the milk) and pump milk around the dairy, they remain strictly artisan. The curd is cut by hand and hand ladled into moulds. Verano's lively interest in the science of cheesemaking and his desire to exploit local resources has led to the development of new cheeses, among which is a cheese utilising the milk of the local Garfagnina breed of cow and an autochthonous starter culture isolated by Pisa University. He also works with restaurants to create particular cheeses for their cheese boards. He generously shares his immense knowledge of cheesemaking with others.
Pierpaolo is the only cheesemaker on the course who came to his craft as an adult. After a number of years as a banker, he found himself becoming more and more discontented with his 'grey office', as he puts it, and decided to make a new start. He created the farm Naturalmente Lunigiana, bought some animals, learned to make cheese from a neighbour, attended a 'cheese school' in the Piedmont and although poorer in money, is happier with his life. He makes cheese from the milk of his sheep, goats, cows and water buffalo. This, along with his training in the Piedmont, allows him to make a wider range of cheeses than the other cheesemakers we visit on the course, including robbiola, a soft lactic type goat cheese, and mozzarella, an example of the pasta filata method of cheesemaking. Pierpaolo sells his cheese in his farm shop and his shop in the nearby market town of Pontremoli.
Following her careers as archaeologist, orchestra and artist manager and chef, Heather came to Lucca to pursue her passion for traditional artisan food. Having been born in the States in the era when an orange rubbery substance that contained no milk was called ‘American cheese’, she may seem an unlikely creator of a cheese course. The realisation of what real cheese is and how good it can be came when she reached England and bumped into a rare truckle from Cheddar Gorge in the days before Randolph Hodgson and Neal’s Yard Dairy had revolutionised the cheese landscape in England. Via another chance encounter, she met Randolph in a tai chi class taught by his Clerk of Works and managed several projects for the Dairy, including finding the farm where Stichelton is now made. But it wasn’t until she arrived in Lucca and started searching for artisan food producers for her tours that she watched a woman making pecorino from the milk of her own sheep and understood the magic of this simple, centuries old craft.
Prices & What's Included
Per person: €1450 (Euros)
Non-participant in same room: €350 (Euros)
Course extension: €790 (Euros) per person minimum 2 people, €590 (Euros) per person minimum 4 people. If you are participating on your own, you may sign up and I will advise you when we have the minimum number of participants.
4 nights welcoming, relaxing accommodation, en suite bathrooms
Local ground transportation for 5 days
Daily continental breakfast, 4 lunches, 4 dinners
Course lectures and sessions with cheesemakers, cooking lesson, course notes
Extension fee includes: all activities described on course tab, 2 dinners, 1 lunch, 2 nights accommodation and local ground transportation
Non-participant fee includes accommodation in same room as a participant, daily continental breakfast, 4 dinners, local ground transportation with group
Does not include
Travel and cancellation insurance
Wine and drinks other than those served with meals, additional meals
Personal expenses such as telephone, mini-bar, etc.
Pisa airport, Pisa Centrale train station
Recommended international travel
Arrival time: not later than 14.30
Departure time: no earlier than 18.00
Nearest airport: Pisa
Airlines from UK: British Airways, EasyJet, Ryanair
Airlines from USA: You have to fly to another European city and take a connecting flight or train to Pisa Centrale. There are good train connections from Rome.
Nearest train stations: Pisa Centrale
Informal. Jeans are acceptable everywhere.
Weather in May
10–20˚C/50–72˚F, precipitation 61 mm/2.4 in
Itinerary is subject to change if necessary due to weather or agricultural conditions or other events outside our control.