The Rocking Shepherd

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June 7th 2012
Published: June 7th 2012
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As we walked down the track towards his shelter, Giulio was busily raking goat scat very evenly over the dusty path. I was in open-toe sandles. The Antipodean contingent were in sensible shoes, having been forewarned by Carmelina. Only I had to hook out goat droppings lodged inbetween my toes.

Giulio is our resident shepherd and today we were going to see him make ricotta "the old way" which means that there were no EU inspectors in the area that day to check up on things. "We've been making it like this since the dawn of creation", he said.

He has 250 goats and sheep scattered over the mountainside but a good number of them were in the pen this morning and they had already been milked. You may already know that goat's milk is a lot less fatty and more easily digestible than cow's milk. Apparently a doe can give up to one litre and a half of milk on a good day. Today, Giulio had collected about 20 litres which were already in the bucket with the rennet added to it, a natural enzyme which comes from the kid goat's stomach, so we sat and waited for the junket to form which he then ladled into bowls for us to taste.

For me it was a memory trip back to my childhood and family holidays on the farm in Cornwall where junket was served up for breakfast. In those days I thought it was absolutely vile and couldn't understand why I couldn't have shredded wheat instead. Tastes do change, thank goodness, and this was really very delicate to the palate. Giulio asked if any of us were constipated and then dolloped another lot into their bowls.

Quickly though, the whey was separating from the curds which had already sunk to the bottom of the bucket, thus forming the first cheese. Guilio put the whey into the big black cauldron where boiling water and salt were added. Then on top of the wood fire it went and we all took it in turns to occasionally stir, but it had to rigorously be a figure of eight stir as Giulio showed us.

In the meantime, Mimmo, Giulio's brother turned up. He had come to shear one of the sheep. Whilst watching the sheep shearing, Carmelina's group of 7, who are big lamb eaters, so they told me, decided that it would be a good idea if they bought one of the little kid goats for their dinner that night.

What?!!! Nooooooo!

A bit of panic ensued as some of us didn't want to assist in the slaughter but there wasn't really anywhere else to go to get away from it. So with hands over ears and wishing that they would get it over and done with as quickly as possible, the poor little fella was soon not gambolling in his pen any more. No photos of that scene, you will be pleased to hear. Not even Giulio could bear to watch. His brother did all the dirty work.

So after about 3 hours from the start of the process, the whey started curdling into ricotta and it was ladled into little plastic buckets for us to take home.

Giulio was saying that during the hot months the goats produce very little milk as forage is scarce on the ground so he stops his production of cheese and ricotta until the autumn. He sells directly to the people in the village and shops in and around Cefalù.

So what do momentarily at rest shepherds do during the hot months when they don't have to get up at the crack of dawn to milk the animals? Well.........they go clubbing of course, don't they?!! He reckons he can recommend the best night club of the season in the Cefalù area. He also says that he needs that time to develop his international relations on his swanky smartphone. He's just missing the flashy car, but he's working on that one too, he said.

Grazie Giulio!


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