Mountain Trentingrana: Slow Food Presidia
I had originally planned to meet up with Beatrice Mancini, “our” photographer in the pastry shop at 7 am. Of course I arrived late, but I couldn’t start the day off without a good cappuccino and a Danish pastry - a tradition that stems from my business trips with Gino Magro. We made up time along the Feltrina state road and at 8.30 am we arrived at Fiera di Primiero. We got as far as Siror only to discover that Primiero Dairy is actually located in Mezzano on the old state road - Franco Fattarsi informed me of this when I gave him a ring. Oh my God! So I set the Sat Nav to the new destination and we finally managed to arrive at the dairy just in time to see the cheese-maker draining the curd.
Franco, our guide during the dairy tour, is someone I have known for a very long time. “I have been working for the group Formaggi del Trentino since 1981,” he told me. He started out in the dairy, became an assistant cheesemaker, moved over to the warehouse and subsequently worked behind the counter. Today he works with the sales and marketing department to promote the group’s cheeses.
Our main objective of the morning was to take a photo of Cesare, the cheesemaker in the cover. At first, he did not seem very enthusiastic about the idea, but that did not discourage us in any way. We initially decided to photograph the day’s cheesemaking processes. The following cheeses were being produced that day: Trentingrana, Tosèla and Nostrano di Primiero. Beatrice was taking some photos whilst trying not to get in the way and irritate anyone. However, despite her best attempts, she still received some glaring looks. In the meanwhile I took the opportunity to ask Franco how the Mountain Trentingrana project came about.
“The idea was formed three years ago while I was talking to Giampaolo Gaiarin of the Slow Food Presidia.” Formaggi del Trentino Group has collaborated with Giampaolo for some time now for several Presidia: Mountain Puzzone di Moena, Primiero Mountain Bòtiro and the Sole Valley Raw Milk Casolèt. “After the initial tests, we started a small production and the first Mountain Trentingrana cheese wheels were presented in the Presidia Avenue at Cheese 2017”.
At the moment, only two dairy farms produce Mountain Trentingrana: Primiero Dairy which produces approximately 1.000 cheese wheels per season and the Presanella Dairy in the Sole Valley, which produces a further 150.
“We started with only two dairies because the production specifications agreed with the Slow Food are very strict, therefore all the processing stages needed to be followed very closely. However, we shortly intend to involve another three dairies in the project so that we can reach a production capacity of 2.000 cheese wheels, which is the current market demand” - says Franco. “We are currently working on a paper label that we can use to differentiate the alpine pasture product from the traditional product. The heel cannot be changed as it bears the consortium mark and the dairy manufacturer number. We thought about printing the words Slow Food Presidia and the snail brand on the top label, but we are still finalising this.” In any case, the colour of the paste makes this cheese unmistakable.
But let’s not jump ahead of ourselves. “How does your Trentingrana differ from the Trentingrana that we are all familiar with?” I asked Franco.
“The milk is what sets this alpine pasture product apart. It must be 100% produced in an alpine pasture.” The Primiero Dairy collects the milk from three alpine pastures: Malga Fosse (1,954 metres above sea level) in the municipality of Siror, Malga Juribello (1,868 metres above sea level) and Malga Rolle (1,980 metres above sea level) in the municipality of Tonadico. All of these are certified by the Trentino quality brand. The Rolle and Fosse alpine pastures, among others, are managed directly by the Primiero Dairy. The milk is brought to the dairy and processed separately.
Unfortunately we were not able to visit the alpine pasture as the season had not yet begun. “Just tomorrow we are going to start bringing up the cattle” - confirmed Alberto Bettega, the director of the Dairy - “about 370 cows that will remain on the mountain pasture until mid-September. These are predominantly Bruna Italiana cattle, but there are also some Tyrol Grey and Pezzata Rossa cattle. There are still a few Friesians, but every year we bring up less and less. We much prefer the Bruna Italiana breed because even though they are less productive than Friesian cows, they have a fatter and better-performing milk for cheesemaking.
As stated by the regulation, the animals live on the pasture and only return to the cowshed for milking. In addition to grass, their diet includes a small supplement of non-GMO cereals. Once the alpine pasture milk from two milking sessions is skimmed to remove the surface cream, it is placed into copper vats. Two cheese wheels are obtained from each vat. When the whey-starter from the previous day’s cheesemaking is inserted, the milk is heated to 31-33°C and then the calf rennet is added. After approximately 10-13 minutes, the curd is broken down using a huge balloon whisk called “spino” and then cooked again, stirred and brought to a temperature of 53-55°C. The curd settles at the bottom of the vat, it is left for around an hour and is then lifted off the bottom by the cheesemaker with a wooden shovel and a cloth. The cheesemaker then cuts it into two equal parts (this process is known as “gemellatura”-twinning). The two masses are then placed in moulds set on a wooden board where they are lightly pressed. The wheels are then brined for 20-24 days before being finally left to age.
Meanwhile, Beatrice managed to successfully get more than one smile out of Cesare and even Valerio, the assistant cheesemaker. It did not finish there however, she even managed to convince everyone to take a group photo.
Alberto Bettega then took us to visit the maturing warehouse, an increasingly fascinating place. “The Trentingrana is aged for 9 months in the Primiero Dairy - Alberto explained to us - and then it is transferred to the Formaggi del Trentino Group’s maturing warehouses in Segno di Taio. The selected wheels are only branded with the Slow Food Presidia when they have been aged for 18 months.”
We finished off the visit with a selfie with Cesare. There are no doubts in our mind: we managed to win him over in the end!