Gallery: Snapshots from Italy: Making Scamorza, Ricotta, and Caciocavallo at a Cheese Factory in Molise

  • Cooking the Milk

    The cheese-makin' starts as the milk is heated to around 36-40°C, when the rennet is added.

    Now It's Curds and Whey

    The milk starts to separate.

    Get Those Curds Out

    The curds sink to the bottom of the cooking vat. They're hauled out...

    ... And Cut Up

    The piles of curd need to be broken up and drained, a process that starts here.

    Grinding It Up

    Those curds are then ground finely...

    And Draining

    ... so that they're small, ragged pieces, which then drain.

    Kneaded

    It's now re-heated at about 93°C, where it becomes softer and more elastic; from there, it's dumped in this kneading contraption, which slaps it around until it's smooth and stretchy.

    Out of the Kneader

    A huge lump that's been stretched and kneaded until it starts to look like cheese we're familiar with.

    Pulling and Twisting

    Pulling and Twisting

    To make the small molded scamorza, bits of cheese are pulled up and twisted into small knot-like balls, about the size of a baseball.

    Salt Bath

    These scamorza are cooled and then spend about 20 minutes in a salt bath...

    Hanging Scamorza

    ... before they're hung and dried, for just a few days.

    All Together Now

    Workers crowding around to sculpt the cheeses.

    Caciocavallo

    The much larger caciocavallo cheese requires a sizable roll of the white stuff.

    Folding It Over

    The cheese is pulled into a slightly oblong round...

    Smoothed Out

    ... and carefully shaped into a soft ball.

    Sculpting

    The cheesemaker wets his hands and pushes a neck into the cheese with one hand while turning it rapidly with the other, just like a potter with his clay on the wheel.

    Pulling Out the Neck

    Stretching the caciocavallo for its distinctive neck.

    Into the Bath

    Caciocavallo get a much longer salt bath than the scamorza: 12-24 hours (the exact length of time depends on the size).

    Tied in Pairs

    The cheeses are hung in pairs, ropes around their necks (these things sort of look like small strangled penguins to me... though the Italian men showing us around were quick to offer up more colorful comparisons).

    The Aging Room

    You know what smells really, really good? This room. The caciocavalli are hung for at least two months, up to a year.

    Strung Up

    Served!

    While young caciocavallo tastes essentially like a good provolone, older ones take on the nuttier, aged character you'd associate with Parmesan or Gouda.

    Ricotta

    All fresh cheese factories turn out ricotta and mozzarella, too.

    Franco di Nucci

    The current owner, Franco di Nucci, is a 10th generation cheesemaker (!); the family company is over 350 years old. Here he is with a photo of his father and grandfather.

    Cowbell

    The di Nucci family used to follow herds of cattle as they roamed wild; they only really settled down in the 20th century.

    (More Cowbell)

    The Raw Material

    The Caseificio di Nucci gets its milk from 19 farms in the area, all of them basically within sight of their production facility in Agnone, a hilltop town with spectacular views of the surrounding areas.

    Smugglin'

    Different nations have different restrictions on the importing of meat products; in trying to get meat through customs, cheese factories used to be masters of disguise, shaping the cheese right around the salami.