Fiorini’s family cave
A trip to Roccalbegna, an ancient medieval village on the slopes of Mount Amiata, in Tuscany, to meet Simone and Angela of the Il Fiorino Dairy and visit the natural cave where they season their best cheeses
“Close the door of the cave otherwise midges will enter and eat the cheese!” reprimand me Valentina, the youngest daughter of Angela Fiorini and Simone Sargentoni. It is her, along with Sofia, the older sister, our guide during the visit of the Fiorini family cave. Young, but with a strong personality, pleasantly pride of Fiorini family heritage and totally aware of the value of the cheeses they are showing us.
After sleeping in Grosseto we leave the city behind and chase Simone through the Tuscan hills, striving to keep up with his sport driving. We reach Roccalbegna, a historic medieval village, on the slopes of Mount Amiata, set between rugged karst spurs, such as the famous Sasso, which is the backdrop to the ancient Rocca.
Fiorini’s cave is at the entrance of this ancient village
The building, where Angela’s mother lives still today, hides the family’s “caveau” on its back: carved out of the rocky side against which the building stands, here is the entrance of the cellar where the cheeses are seasoned.
The cave has been recently restored and enlarged, exploiting the rooms of the old establishment. The dairy is located a little further on, after the historic center of Roccalbegna, in a modern establishment of three thousand square meters.
Let’s first visit the dairy
We get out of the car and breathe the peace of the hills, the look that is lost among pastures, meadows, woods and olive trees, while the cicadas remind us that it is midsummer.
To enter the dairy we had to pass by the shop, which is at the same time a flaghip store where you can buy all family cheeses, and many other specialties of Maremma area, but also a space that tells the story of Fiorini family, through a lot of pictures and framed prizes, with which the walls are covered.
“The Fiorini family originates from Tuscany and Romagna regions” - says Simone. “Francesco Fiorini was baptised in Roccalbegna in 1812. He was probably the first one of the family who bought a farm in Maremma area and devoted himself to sheep breeding. In 1925 one of his descendants, Ferrero Fiorini, married Caterina Pandolfi of Roccalbegna, increased the business and opened a shop in the village. He had two children, including Duilio, Angela’s father, who founded Il Fiorino dairy in 1957: an old tank, preserved as an antique heirloom, shows the historic stamp with the date of the company’s foundation “.
The current plant, built in 1989, is actually managed by Angela and Simone: the company has gradually grown over the years and now employs around 30 people.
Angela and Simone have succeeded in making the Fiorini di Roccalbegna’s dairy products known and appreciated all around the world, while at the same time preserving the authenticity and craftsmanship of the products
As a proof, they keep winning lots of international awards with their cheeses. To mention only the last: 7 medals at the World Cheese Awards in Bergen, Norway, in November 2018, two Super Gold (the most prestigious recognition) and a prize for the best Italian company of the competition.
One of the main strengths of Fiorini cheeses - as often happens - is the raw material: milk comes exclusively from Maremma area, and is collected only from selected local farms.
About fifty producers, almost all located in the province of Grosseto, with an average of 250-400 sheeps each. Roccalbegna, Saturnia, Semproniano, Scansano, Arcidosso, Cinigiano, Campagnatico and Grosseto; places dedicated to agriculture since the Etruscan era, where fortunately even today the rolling landscape has been preserved almost intact.
The milk is directly collected every day by Fiorino with they own trucks and taken to the dairy where it is processed
With an internal analysis it is defined the type of cheese to be produced, according to the characteristics of the milk. The dairy transforms on average 12-13 tons of milk per day, the most important production takes place between March and July, respecting the seasonal lactation cycle of sheeps.
Cheeses are dry-salted with Volterra salt, strictly by hand, as every step in production: washing, brushing, turning.
The wheels spend the first 15-20 days of their life in a first cell of maturation, where they are turned weekly, to enhance the exit of the humidity and the regular formation of the crust.
They pass then into a second cell, where they are washed and seasoned on wooden boards. Finally, once the desired seasoning has been reached, they are brushed and transferred into plastic boxes in a third maturation cell, where they remain until shipment.
Only three cheeses follow a different path: Riserva del Fondatore, Cacio di Caterina and Grotta del Fiorini. After 3-4 months of maturation in the cell, these cheeses are transferred to the cave for refining
Fiorino’s top of the range, they are all “numbered”: in 2018 5,400 wheels of Pecorino Riserva del Fondatore ware produced, while so far in 2019 4,300 wheels.
Riserva del Fondatore is a cheese created by Angela and Simone, dedicated to Duilio Fiorini: it is a recognition to Angela’s father for trusting them in the management of the family company.
One of the company’s most awarded and appreciated products, it is made with pasteurized sheep’s milk and aged in caves for at least five months.
However, the visit to the cave offers us the opportunity to taste two more cheeses, aged in the natural cellars of the family
The first one we taste is Pecorino Grotta del Fiorini, a cheese from the Tuscan peasant tradition, but with a strong personality given by a long refinement in a cave at room temperature, with natural ventilation.
The crust shows white-gray molds due to aging, the texture is compact but soluble, with well-distributed tiny eyes. The taste is sweet, with vegetal and cellar notes, long and persistent.
But the cheese that intrigues me the most is “the cheese of women”: Il Cacio di Caterina, a tribute to Caterina Pandolfi, wife of Ferrero and mother of the founder of “Il Fiorino”.
Caterina’s Cacio is also a tribute to the ancient ladies’ dairy art of Tuscan tradition. In Tuscany it was women who made cheese in front of the fireplace, watching over the freshly milked and still fragrant milk.
And it is exactly Cacio di Caterina the cheese that Sofia and Valentina choose to take when we ask them to take a picture in the cave
The next generation of women of the dairy is growing, under the silent but careful guidance of their mother, Angela.
Angela speaks little, she lets Simone guide us during the visit, but in her gestures and words we clearly perceive a lively and intense bond with the family, the dairy, the territory: so many threads of a single weaving
It is nice to find out, chatting with Angela, that Il Fiorino was recently awarded by Legambiente as one of the 100 most virtuous experiences in Italy for innovation and sustainable development, thanks to the photovoltaic system, the purifier and other choices aimed at self-production according to the circular economy model.
“Our passion is making cheese” - says Angela. “Every day we work matching heart, professionalism and expertise
Growing our company also means improving the territory in which we work and live. It is not just a question of optimizing costs or a general care to environmental issues. We believe that we can make excellent products only if we live in an excellent place. So we will try to do our best to preserve the area where we live”.
One big proof is the choice to remain in Roccalbegna, both with the family and with the dairy, despite the possibility of moving to the city of Grosseto.
Roccalbegna is a town of 970 inhabitants: in Sofia class there are only two children. The choice to remain is both an affective choice, to one extent, but also really courageous for others: it helps keeping alive one of the many small villages of our country that are inexorably depopulating.
We end up our visit in the garage of the Fiorini house: we could not leave without seeing Simone’s new motorbike.
It is Angela’s gift to him for his fiftieth birthday. “So every once in a while we leave the girls to the grandparents and Angela and me go for a ride on the hills” - Simone winks at me. What can we say? From a beautiful family, in a beautiful place, we expect only beautiful cheeses.