The farm as an art shop, the cheese maker as an artist
The cheese “Ragusano DOP” represents as a symbol the tradition and the genuineness of this side of Sicily, an art handed down from generation to generation into the “masseria” the picturesque -farm, mostly a family business and house, which characterizes with its presence the calcareous lands of the Ragusa’s country-side.
So was born the “ragusano”, in an atmosphere of old days, with slowest gestures and processes, among wooden tools with antique names.
Creamy and energy-giving, the fresh milk exhales the flavours of the sweet herbs of the Iblean plateau.
The cheese maker, the casaro, first sifts and pours the milk into a big wooden tub, so-called tina – not rarely copper plated – and after adds some lamb’s or kid’s rennet paste, he himself has prepared and dosed. The rennet needs about one hour to curdle the milk. At this point the casaro stirs the curd by a wooden staff, the ruotula – term that refers to its disc-shaped end – breaking it to small pieces the size of a lentil.
Meanwhile, 80° C’s water is poured in for a first cooking.
Thus the curd is set into baskets, the vascedde (pl.), from which arises the whey, the siero, that added of a 10% of milk, provides the ricotta. The curd is cooked again, at the same temperature, using the scotta, a residual of the ricotta.
Then the curd goes back to the vascedda where completes its filtering for some 2 hours and “rests” for about 20 hours, so as to reach the ideal acidity and taste. The duration of this process varies according to the average temperature of the cheese making, and it is always the casaro who determines it.
The dense paste so obtained is sliced and placed into the staccio, a wooden or copper container where warm water is poured, in order to make the paste rope.
The process of shaping is hand made being a very delicate moment. The cheese maker has carefully to join the paste’s extremity and to eliminate possible air-bubbles or gaps, eventually arisen.
Still hot, the now sphere of cheese is set into the mastreddda, where it will lie one day and one night, getting dry and assuming the classic parallelepiped-shape.
The cheese is thus immersed in salted water for the first salting, for a time shifting from 2 through 8 days, according to the weight of the whole cheese.
Finally comes the seasoning in places not rarely made out of original caves, which due to their ideal conditions (cool and dark), longtime have accomplished this task.
Here occurs the second seasoning, lasting some 30 days. Once completed the process (according to his skilled reckoning), the casaro hangs the cheese on wooden beams by the so-called liame (ropes), checking it every 2 weeks.
Then, according to the degree of mellowness desired, the cheese is made lying from 4 months to 1 year.
A real masterpiece as you see, that, every piece of art, has no duplicate. Each whole cheese always differs from the others.