Theory & Practice of Italian Cheese

16–20 April, 7–11 May, 2–6 July, 24–28 September 2015

Extension workshops: 20–22 April, 11–13 May, 6–8 July, 28–30 September 2015

The September 2015 course is planned to follow Slow Food Cheese

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: 7 people.


Course at a glance


Arrival at Pisa airport or Pisa train station no later than 2.45 pm (one transfer to agriturismo La Torre at Bagni di Lucca will be provided around 2.45 pm)

Session 1: Introduction to course and Theory Part 1 with Giancarlo Russo

Session 2: Cheese and wine pairing with Giancarlo Russo

Welcome dinner at La Torre


Session 3: Making caprino and ricotta by traditional one-pot artisan method with Vitalina Fiori (hard paste goat's milk cheese, un-pasteurised milk from own herd)

Light lunch & bread lesson with village baker

Session 4: Theory Part 2 with Giancarlo Russo

Session 5: Milking, dinner and making cheese and ricotta by traditional one-pot artisan method with Marzia Ridolfi (hard paste sheep’s milk, goat’s milk & cow’s milk cheeses, un-pasteurised milk from own animals)


Session 6: Making cow's milk cheese and ricotta by partly mechanised method with Daniela Pagliai (vaccino (hard), primo sale (soft fresh), raviggiolo (soft fresh), stracchino (soft, semi-mature), ricotta, butter, yoghurt, un-pasteurised milk from own herd), transhumance and visit alpine pastures

Lunch: Pasta tasting at Cutigliano

Session 7: Theory Part 3 with Giancarlo Russo

Dinner at family restaurant with silky homemade pasta and game stews


Session 8: Lactic fermentation with Monica Ferrucci (un-pasteurised goat’s milk of own herd)

Lunch: Prepared by Monica Ferrucci

Session 9: Q&A with Giancarlo Russo

Session 10: Italy vs England sheep’s milk cheese tournament

Dinner: At private Italian home of former chef Gabriella Lazzarini


Session 11: Making pecorino and ricotta by partly mechanised method with Verano Bertagni (soft and hard cheeses of cow's, sheep's and goat's milk and ricotta, pasteurised and un-pasteurised milk from many small shepherds)

Lunch at Andrea Bertucci's parallel gastronomic universe

Depart (one transfer from Castelnuovo to Pisa airport or train station will be provided after lunch)

Extend your stay – ask about

Monday to Wednesday: extra workshops Continue to Parma for dinner, overnight in hotel, visit to family producer of parmesan cheese from milk of own herd, demonstration of pasta filata, wine tasting and overnight in mediaeval castle.

Guided day tours to visit a norcino (butcher who cures pork), make bread in a wood-fired oven with a village baker, visits to vineyards, visit sculpture studio at Pietrasanta and much more.



Arrive Pisa airport or train station and transfer to Agriturismo La Torre, Bagni di Lucca

One pick-up only no later than 14.30.

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, well-being
  • The milk: different properties
  • What you will do with the cheesemakers
  • What to pay attention to during the visits to the cheesemakers

Session 2: Cheese and wine pairing with Giancarlo Russo

  • Evaluation of cheese: common defects
  • Criteria for pairing cheese and wine

Welcome dinner at La Torre



Session 3: 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 cheese and ricotta warm from the pot in the dairy as well as the more mature specimens in the room where she matures the cheese.

Light lunch with a village baker and his wife interleaved with bread baking lesson

Session 4: Theory Part 2 with Giancarlo Russo

  • Coagulation
  • Cutting the curd
  • Separating curd from whey
  • Moulding and knitting curd
  • Salting
  • Ricotta

Session 5: Milking, dinner and making cheese and ricotta by traditional one-pot artisan method with Marzia Ridolfi

Marzia and her husband have a mixed arable and livestock farm, included cows, sheep, goats and pigs. Marzia learned to make cheese from her mother-in-law.

  • Afternoon milking
  • Family dinner
  • Making cheese
  • Making ricotta
  • Maturing room
  • Cheese tasting



Session 6: Cow's milk cheese and transhumance with Daniela Pagliai

  • 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.
  • Making ricotta
  • Maturing room
  • Tasting of Daniela's cheeses, yoghurt and butter
  • Visit alpine pasture

Lunch: Pasta tasting at Cutigliano

Session 7: Theory Part 3 with Giancarlo Russo

  • Production: other types of cheese and dairy products
  • Stagionatura: maturing cheese

Dinner at Buca di Baldabò, Vico Pancellorum

Giovanna, a native of Parma, makes the silkiest pasta I've ever eaten and her husband Enrico, a hunter, prepares the game stews.



Session 8: Lactic fermentation with Monica Ferruci

  • Making lactic-type goat’s milk cheese
  • Maturing room

Cheese tasting and light lunch at Monica’s

Session 9: Q&A with Giancarlo Russo

Session 10: Italy vs England sheep’s milk cheese tournament

Score cards will be issued and you're the judges. If you make a sheep's milk cheese, please bring some and add it to the competition.

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 departure from Agriturismo La Torre

Session 11: Increasing production and remaining artisan with Verano Bertagni at Caseificio Bertagni

Verano is the only cheesemaker we visit 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
  • Packaging
  • Maturing
  • Tasting

Lunch at Il Vecchio Mulino, Castelnuovo

A tasting menu at Andrea's parallel gastronomic universe

Transfer to Pisa airport or Pisa train station or to Parma for course extension

Only one transfer to airport or station will be provided after lunch to arrive at airport / station at 3.30 pm).

Course extension


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 at family restaurant

After 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.

Sapori e Sapori cheese course takes place at La Torre

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

Course Instructor

Course leader

Giancarlo Russo

Giancarlo designed and leads our Courses with Artisans Advanced Salumi Course and the Theory & Practice of Italian Cheese. 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)
  • Instructor for Slow Food Master of Cheese Programme
  • International Judge for Olympic Cheese Games
  • 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

Course instructors

Vitalina Fiori

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 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 Pagliai

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.

Monica Ferrucci

Monica came to cheesemaking about 12 years ago and is now addicted. She shares a mixed herd of sheep and goats with another farmer, which she milks herself. She has mastered the art of lactic fermentation, by which method she makes a variety of un-pasteurised soft cheeses including stracchino and the robiola of Piedmont.

Bertagni skims ricotta

Verano Bertagni

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.

Course organiser

Heather Jarman

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, 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.

Meeting points

Pisa airport, Pisa Centrale or Lucca 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.

What People Say

I just got back a few days ago and am still basking in the glow of learning and fellowship that I experienced on your course. Wow-- just WOW! As a cheesemaker, it was very important to me to meet other artisans in their unique spaces, see them work with their hands and herds, and discuss the challenges we all face in this business. Experiencing their more traditional practices will help me make more authentic products for the growing market here in the States.

The trip generated more than new knowledge about traditional Italian cheesemaking. It also fostered fellowship among us as cheese professionals, and we’re already writing regular updates and sharing best practices with one another. One of my fellow travelers, who is starting a cheese business, is even coming to visit my farmstead creamery and continue our learning adventure in real time!

Anne Becker, USA, cheesemaker, May 2014, Theory & Practice of Italian Cheese Course

I was fortunate to join the artisan cheese course in the spring of 2014. There were so many great aspects of the trip: the small group of fun and like-minded strangers who quickly became friends; the artisans who were so open and willing to share their work with us; the many meals we were able to linger over and savour, and not the least, our course leaders, Heather and Giancarlo, who went out of their way to get the answers to our endless questions and make us feel comfortable.

Tonya Harmon, USA, aspiring cheesemaker, May 2014, Theory & Practice of Italian Cheese Course

We LOVED our Cheese course with you! We learned so much and the food was beyond amazing. I'm afraid that you have turned us into food snobs. David and I need to come back for another tour!

Faythe DiLoreto, USA, cheesemaker, May 2014, Theory & Practice of Italian Cheese Course

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