Questo articolo è il risultato della collaborazione tra SapereFood e Umbra Institute, filiale italiana di alcuni college e università statunitensi con sede a Perugia. Dopo un approfondimento sul settore agroalimentare e sullle tecniche di scrittura giornalistica, gli studenti di Umbra Institute hanno visitato alcune importanti aziende della regione, raccontando la loro esperienza sul campo e contribuendo a diffondere la qualità alimentare dell’Umbria all’estero.
by Gina Cassara
Walking into Caseificio Broccatelli in Assisi, one’s first impression is of a staggering selection of different cheeses. Displayed in two cases (one for hard cheese and one for soft), the large assortment offers overwhelming variety. The owners, the Gambini family, have had plenty of time to expand their selection of products — the store has been in operation since 1956, and the family’s history of cheese-making dates back even further. In 1938, Enrico Gambini, then 14, started work at casa Broccatelli, a local cheese factory. He worked there until 1943, when he was called to serve in the army. Upon his return, he started his own cheese factory. After relocating several times, Caseificio Broccatelli finally opened in its present-day location in 1956. It has been there ever since, in the same building and run by the same family.
My “Anthropology of Food” class from the Umbra Institute in Perugia, working in collaboration with SapereFood, visited the cheese shop and heard this remarkable history in person when we had the opportunity to speak with the now 92-year-old Enrico and his grandson Fabio, 31, who works with one of his seven brothers at the factory his grandfather started. After arriving at the shop and admiring the cheeses, we were offered slip-on shoe covers before being ushered into the pristine factory. There we were met by the sight of Fabio, in the process of making mozzarella in a traditional wooden tub with a wooden paddle. Without missing a beat in his steady mixing of the cheese, he explained that at Caseificio Broccatelli, they had reintroduced the use of the traditional wooden tub, which creates a moister, if less long-lasting, product as compared with machine-made mozzarella. At this point he was finished mixing the cheese, showing us that it had reached the proper “stretchiness”. Then he and Enrico began to work together to cut (or mozzare, in Italian) the mozzarella into smaller chunks that would be sold to customers who had pre-ordered this special product. As they worked, Fabio informed us that although it might seem unsanitary that they worked with their bare hands, it was necessary so they could feel when the mozzarella had reached the proper consistency. He added that this artisanal knowledge of making cheese by hand is becoming rarer. Their cheese shop is one of the few remaining in Umbria where the tradition is kept alive.
When they had finished, Fabio recounted the company’s history to us, and we took a moment to applaud Enrico for his accomplishments. He was clearly moved, telling us that we would make him cry and he took a moment to take a photograph with us before excusing himself for a lunch break (it was at this point almost 3 o’clock in the afternoon). Such is the life of a hard-working cheese-maker!
Fabio then showed us around the factory. We learned that the milk they use comes from local farms that are personally visited by Caseificio Broccatelli. They partner only with farms where feed is grown on the premises and the animals are not confined but have room to move around. Each morning the milk is delivered, filtered, and mildly pasteurized, killing the bad bacteria but preserving the good. A curdling agent is added and the milk is left to set. After a period of time, the now-curdled milk is broken up. Fabio explained that this is the point in the process where the type of cheese the milk will become is determined. Smaller kernels make a harder cheese, whereas larger kernels make a soft cheese, such as mozzarella. Finally, we visited the basement where the ripening process takes place. Racks of aging cheese towered over our heads and the scent was one only a cheese-lover could stand!
Once we returned upstairs, we found a tempting display of samples awaiting us. Many-flavored yogurts, creamy ricotta paired with chocolate sauce and topped with nuts, a skewer of aged pecorino and “mixed” cow and sheep-milk cheese with fruit, and, of course, fresh mozzarella were just a few of the offerings, and it had all been made in-house. These treats represented only a small portion of the cheeses available at the shop. Although pecorino, a sheep-milk cheese, and caciotto, a cow’s-milk cheese, are the most popular, other products include pecorino canestrato, a cheese that is aged in a basket, giving its rind characteristic markings; fresh mascarpone; subasio pressato, an aged cow’s-milk cheese; and various goat cheeses. There is also a booklet containing descriptions of each cheese so that customers can educate themselves on the available options.
When speaking to Fabio, it is clear just how important this business and its traditions are to him. He regularly takes classes to learn how to make new types of cheese, and he wishes to share this knowledge with others. Caseificio Broccatelli offers internships to those wishing to learn about traditional cheese-making methods, and Fabio even spoke of hoping to someday install a glass wall in the storefront to allow customers to view the factory. Although he and his grandfather are separated by a generation, they are clearly connected by their passion for their work.