Sandra is a lean, sinewy woman, with arms well-defined from lifting heavy wheels of organic pecorino cheese. She greets us with open-arms and sincere hugs at the entrance to Podere Il Casale, the organic cheese and vegetable farm she operates with her husband Ulisse. “Welcome to our humble farm,” she says with a broad smile. “It will be my pleasure to show you around.”
Through the courtyard, past the mural of Sandra created by a local artist from the shards of broken dishes dropped over the years at Podere Il Casale, we make our way into the heart of the farm.
We pass the enclosure for the newly captured wild-boar piglets. They are rooting in the straw, and Sandra attempts to catch one, hopes to allow us to pet their pink snouts. It seems, though, that Italian pigs are as difficult to catch as American ones, and Sandra quickly gives up. “Follow me to the sheep,” she says.
We pass the beehive, make our way to the pride and joy of the farm. “These are our sheep,” she says, “which are raised organically and treated only with natural medicines. They produce the best milk through the spring, and this is the milk that we use in cheese making.” She smiles, and a dog the size of a small lion rounds the corner, makes his way to the fence. Sandra reaches in and pats the dog on the head. “Don’t touch the dog,” she warns. “He is the protector of the sheep and might consider you foe if you get too close. Me he knows; you, he does not.” On its hind legs, the lion-dog’s paws could easily rest on my shoulders. I note its wolf-like frame, its jutting snout, its pointed teeth. It is docile enough looking at a distance.
From the sheep pen, Sandra leads us to the cheese factory, where Ulisse, clad in a long white apron, meets us. She instructs us in the artisanal ways of organic cheese making, shows us how young cheese is aged on wooden boards while Ulisse stands watching. “The aging process,” she says, ” reduces the amount of moisture in the cheese and concentrates the flavors.” She walks into the refrigerator, pulls out a large wheel. “Also,” she says, “it allows for the growth of natural bacteria. The bacteria lend to the flavor of the cheese, but they also enhance the probiotic content of the cheese, which is good for the body.”
“How much would that wheel of cheese run?” someone asks.
“Oh, perhaps eight-hundred Euro.”
Ulisse, arm propped against a large piece of machinery, interrupts any discussion of economics. “We do things by the old ways here–raw milk organic cheeses, all aged on wooden boards. This is the way that humans have been making cheese for hundreds of years,” he says with a waive of his hand. “But we’ve been told that your Government has recently banned these kinds of artisanal practices. This is ridiculous,” he says, with no sense of hyperbolic overstatement. “The science has proven that the cultures and bacteria preserved in this manner of cheese making are beneficial to the human body. And now your government says it is illegal? Why? Do the people no longer want what is natural and good for the body?”
“It’s not about what the people want,” I lament.
“That is the true shame,” he says. “Is this how the United States people,” he begins, but is interrupted by a ding from Sandra’s iPhone. We turn to look at Sandra, who is gasping, hand on her chest.
“Our second grandchild is born!” she says, and the lot of us break into wide smiles. All notions of overreaching governments, the passing of the artisanal ways, and dogs the size of baby lions fade. She gushes like a proud grandmother, and Ulisse remains in place, smiling in quiet. “Out of the body!” she exclaims, and we laugh, living into what it means to be human together.Want to receive my updates in your inbox? Click here. Also, follow along on Twitter and Facebook.