20.05.2016. Best of the Coast
Most cheesemaking in the Sorrentine Peninsula takes place way above the coast in the fertile upland valleys of Agerola and Tramonti, where flocks of sheep and goats are still a common sight, often creating impromptu traffic jams as they dawdle on the road.
Cheerful, chatty Biagio Staiano operates one of the few caseifici (cheese factories) within easy reach of the sea. It’s in panoramic Ravello, on a pretty piazza graced by a fountain decorated with the evangelical symbols of the ox and the winged lion, remnants of a Medieval monument that once stood in the cathedral. Here, with the help of mamma Maddalena, in what is more a small workshop than a factory, Staiano keeps alive the local traditions of artisanal cheesemaking.
Below is the punto vendita, or shop, above the laboratory where, in two large vats, Staiano adds rennet to fresh Campanian cow’s milk, twice a day, with a little milk from the day before (this is known as l’innesto – the catalyst) and heats the liquid to around body temperature, stirring the rubbery mass with a traditional wooden paddle. He does this once in the early evening, and once in the middle of the night, between 2am and 3.30am according to the time of year.
As well as classic fior di latte in various shapes (that’s the mild form of mozzarella preferred by Neapolitan pizza-makers), Staiano also makes creamy ricotta (using whole milk rather than just the curds to give a smoother consistency), caciocavallo (a classic local seasoned cheese, easily identifiable from its head-and-body figure-of-eight shape) and little caciottine (fresh cheese balls), which can be purchased plain or filled with chilli, rocket, walnuts, olives, cherry tomatoes, lemons or herbs.
Staiano also takes his craft on the road, thanks to a portable cheesemaking station, and is much in demand at weddings and events due to his mesmeric, lightning-quick ability to fashion caciottine, caciotte and nodini (little cheese knots) out of a freshly drawn ribbons of cheese like an entertainer sculpting balloon animals. He was even asked to demonstrate his art in Istanbul recently – not bad for an Amalfi Coast micro-company with a staff of two.
Piazza Fontana Moresca 1-2, Ravello
Tel 089 857271 or 089 858203