I had all but forgotten about this family and their cheeses when out of the blue Vittorio called and asked if I would join him for dinner with his friends at the sheep farm, and he also told me I could bring a few people as well. Coincidentally, a wonderful couple, Gayle and Paul, who are waiting for their farmhome to be built at Castello di Casole were staying at our private guesthouse. So we all jumped in the car with our umbrellas on a rainy Sunday evening and set off towards Radicondoli where Vittorio guided us down a nondescript gravel road to the sheep farm of Giovanni Porcu.
As we arrived, the sheep (pecori) were excitedly queuing up for a quick meal and milking in the barn. When Giovanni gave them the signal, a group of about 30 sheep rushed through a little opening between the barn and the milking area and lined up one next to the other along a long trough filled with food until every open space was claimed. Tubes with powerful suction hoses were attached to the teats of the sheep and while they were being milked they chomped away at their dinners. As we were watching this fascinating spectacle, Giovanni’s farmhand passed into my arms a baby sheep with the softest white fur that had been born the day before. I could have held onto that little bleating bundle of joy for hours.
Vittorio led us through a room where the milk was being directed into a large steel container and into the cheese-making facility. About twenty big rounds of bright white cheese were bobbing in a large vat of water to remove the salt they had been curing in. Others were still packed in salt in big plastic containers. As we proceeded to a particular closed door, Vittorio warned us that the aroma we were about to encounter was not unlike that of bad foot odor. We headed into a room loaded with trays cheeses of various shapes and shades from creamy white to dark yellow, all covered in mold. Some had been made with rennet (expelled from the lining of baby sheep stomachs after their first suckling- you might not have wanted to know that). Others were made with a vegetable rennet which is a slower process dating back to the times of Dante but well worth the wait.
Then Vittorio opened another door that led into a little shop where the family sells their cheeses to the public. He chose three cheeses for us to sample, starting with the youngest which had been aged for three months with a smooth, slightly nutty flavor, to the oldest called Tallegio which was covered in a moldy rind and quite potent. All three were delicious and a great precursor to the incredible dinner awaiting us.
As we bade farewell to our new Sardinian friends and stepped out into the rainy black night, Gayle, Paul and I were a little overcome by the extraordinary experience we had just shared. It is one that we will never forget, and it’s yet another reason why so many of us are so drawn to this little stretch of Italian countryside.