Olivia, the most lovely hostess with charm, charisma, and two whole barns full of goats.
The beautiful accommodation part of the agriturismo
The stars of the show
A goat after my own heart.
Fresh, raw goat milk after its processing into rounds.
Monica, making the round forms of the fermented goat milk
The rounds need to be flipped in their own containers...
...the hand motions are quick and smooth...
...the rounds need to be turned several times...
...before they head over to the drying rooms.
Oh Dio. Che buona. Una formagetta con una crosta di lavanda (a little cheese dipped in lavander...)
The beautiful packaging....look for it at EATALY....
cheese topped with coal dust, with lavender, with herbs, with juniper berries...
too scrumptious for words. More. More. More.
Some days you hit upon experiences that peel layers back from your heart and expose your emotions. Things don't always start out that way; they can start out innocuously, with a simple appointment to taste some goat cheese at a small producer in the hills of Northern Italy.
We climbed into the hills of the Alta Langha, to the village of Vesime, where the vines give way to pastures and farmland. This is the heart of Robbiola country, the DOP zone of Roccaverano, where goat cheese so mild, so delectable is produced, that I would bet anyone claiming to be a goat cheese hater to give it a try and not be converted.
We had read about a lovely Agriturismo called La Luna Buona that produces cheese in Vesime. We stopped at the local market and asked for directions. The proprietor stepped outside the shop. "See?", he said, pointing upwards in the hills. "There's a church. Then there's a yellow house. Up above, see that stone house? That's Luna Buona. Careful, it's a steep road!"
He wasn't kidding. We climbed and zig zagged straight up to the stone house, and were greeted by a lovely young woman who was born with a smile on her face. I felt like I had known her before. Olivia graciously showed us around her and Massimo's little piece of paradise: they have built a goat cheese farm and production facility. A really big "small" one, if that makes sense. Small enough that the entire process is done by hand. Big enough that it can work economically.
The first thing we did was to visit the goats. Now, I am a goat lover, so I might be biased, but I could have taken a few of these home with me. So affectionate, so darling. And in this barn there were at least a few hundred of them. They were eating straw from Roccaverano, which is the law, since this is an organic farm producing Robbiola di Roccaverano DOP, small rounds of raw milk goat cheese. We could not help but notice how spotless the goat barn was, and how pleasant it was to be in there with them. These goats have it good. Really, really good. One goat nuzzled my hand until another came along, wanting some attention too. Sweetness all around.
We then passed by the milking area, where the female goats are fed a special grain combination that they really love. Happy, happy goats are milked twice a day. The milk then goes into the laboratory where the processing begins.
The end result is a product so beautiful, wholesome and tasty that there are no words to really describe it. It's about something real, eating this cheese.
We went back to the house, where Olivia, Massimo and their two daughters live. The house is a historic Piemontese L-shaped cascina, beautifully restored by the family themselves. In the old barn are now three guest rooms and a brick vaulted ceiling breakfast and tasting room, much like our own. I started to feel a bit emotional -- like this was all so familiar. The renovation, the work, the passion, the bricks, the ceiling, the kindness, the generosity. We sat and tasted the exquisite cheeses and felt like we were in a place very much like our own home.
Olivia showed me the photos of the house before the restoration. It was a ruin. Like ours was.
She told me that they were hard years, the years of building. That was it. Tears were streaming down my face. I knew with every fiber of my being what she meant by hard years. I know what she knows and I felt it all around me in her home. It all touched me. There is so much of this type of life that is just plain hard, hard work. All for what? To make something good. To make something good and special and small and right. Not to make a fortune - just to do something that adds to the world instead of destroying it. To feel that feeling when someone looks at your work and says, "Wow. This is amazing." That is what I knew this woman and her family had sacrificed and worked so hard for. And yet, she met us with a smile, and openness and with a sense of generosity that beguiles all of that hard work.
So that's why I felt so emotional, peeled back, exposed, yet validated in my own choices about what I do.
It was a wonderful morning. One I will not forget for a long time. Maybe never.