Two weeks in Tuscany

Hi folks, we have recently returned from two weeks in Tuscany. Apart from being just a wonderful place to be, it is also Cheese and Wine Heaven.

The place we stayed was an Agroturismo called Zampugna, just about equidistant between Montepulciano and Pienza. It is in the middle of nowhere, (figure 1) surrounded by organic farming, olive oil groves and vineyards, offering total tranquillity, with a swimming pool (figure 2). The owner is Riccardo Berna and he is building a website as we speak: www.leregge.com

The views are stunning, the wine and home made Grappa fabulous (figure 3) and the cheese is Pecorino!! (figure 4)

   Figure 1::View from the cottage    Figure 2::Swimming pool    Figure 3::Wine and Grappa     Figure 4::Cheese...  

 

We have been to the same place several times, which, in itself says how great it is. However, this time, because we have done all of the big touristy things in the area, we managed to refine our visits a little more, guess where we went? Of course, to visit a Pecorino maker.

The name of the cheese making company was Cugusi Silvana & C (figure 5). They were recommended to us by Riccardo, the owner of Zampugna (he seems to know everyone). Cugusi Silvano is a small local cheese making company which makes 13 different varieties of Pecorino. Yes that's correct, 13 types, from 10 day old Pecorino through to 3 year old wine dressed cheese with peppers in. Included in the repertoire of cheeses is Pecorino wrapped in walnut leaves and also Pecorino matured in ash. Believe me, we tasted the lot. The on site shop is fantastic and the staff are so friendly, the company sell to local hotels, restaurants and have another shop in Montepulciano.

Figure 6 shows two cheeses at different stages, one is a 3 year old Pecorino with peppers alongside a two month old version of the same cheese.

   Figure 5::Cheese making company    Figure 6::Two stages of cheese    Figure 7:: Fabritsio and the cheese queen  

 

The boss was greatly impressed when I told him I make Asiago Pepato. The company also make Ricotta, which Jan loved and Raviggiolo which we did not try. The boss, Fabritsio and I think it was his wife, he introduced her as the cheese queen anyway, (figure 7) were fantastic hosts and showed us all the way round the dairy and cave. It was also terrific to see the sheep out in the fields next to the dairy (figure 8) of which there are about 1000 (not all in this picture of course). The whole crew were so proud of their cheese, but it was obvious that for Fabritsio, there is a special relationship with his cheeses (figure 9). Some of the producers in the area ship their milk from all over Europe, but this was the true traditional Pecorino, that made it so special for Jan and me.

    Figure 8::Sheep...    Figure 9:Special relationship…    Figure 10:: Mould racks for Ricotta    Figure 11::Milk/cheese tanks  

 

I think the next pictures are fairly self explanatory so will just post them with a little title to explain.

Fig 10: The mould racks for Ricotta
Fig 11: The milk/cheese tanks

    Figure 12::Ricotta tanks    Figure 13::3 kilo Pecorino cheeses…     Figure 14::3 kilo Pecorino cheeses…  

 

Fig 12: Ricotta tanks
Fig 13 &14: 3 Kilo Pecorino cheeses salted and out of the moulds ready to go to the cave

   Figure 15::3 kilo cheeses     Figure 16::25 kilo cheeses    Figure 17:: 10 kilo cheeses     Figure 18:: 25 kilo cheeses     Figure 19:: 10 kilo olive oil dressed cheeses  

 

Fig 15: Peppered 3 Kilo cheese with date of manufacture on
Fig 16: 25 Kilo cheeses aging (they are turned once a week for 2 years)
Fig 17: 10 Kilo cheeses maturing in the cave
Figure 18: More 25 Kilo cheeses maturing
Fig 19: 10 Kilo olive oil dressed Pecorino

    Figure 20::Jan checking out the moulds     Figure 21::3 sizes of Pecorino     Figure 22::Cheese Heaven…  

 

Fig 20: Jan checking out the different mould sizes
Fig 21: Three different sizes of Pecorino all salted and waiting to be placed in the cold room at 10°

    Figure 23:: Cheese Heaven…     Figure 24:: Cheese Heaven…     Figure 25::St Jan     Figure 26:: Cheese Heaven…  

 

Fig 22,23,24: Cheese Heaven
Fig 25: ‘St Jan’ with her cheese halo
Fig 26,27: More Cheese Heaven

    Figure 27:: Cheese Heaven…     Figure 28::Olive oil dressing table     Figure 29::The shop  

 

Fig 28: Curved olive oil cheese dressing table
Fig 29: The shop

Further information I managed to gain with our poor knowledge of the Italian language is; the sheep are milked twice a day, the temperature they add their culture and Rennet is 36 °. I didn’t want to appear rude so didn’t ask about production statistics, but believe me, walking round the cave, there was enough to keep them going for the 2 year maturation cycle.

It was a fabulous morning, so all we can say is thank you Fabritsio. If you ever find yourself travelling out of Montepulciano towards Pienza, about 2.5 km out on the SS140, you will find Cugusi on the right, pop in and treat yourself, it’s worth it. You can of course also visit them on www.caseificiocugusi.it

To read a little more about our trip, take a look at my blog article Pure Heaven!

A version of this article has been published on the New England Cheese website blog