We were fortunate enough to be invited to take a private tour of a very small producer of raw milk cheese. At 900 meters of elevation in the incredibly scenic Italian Dolomites, they raise nine cows to produce 40000 liters of milk per year. The cows are sent up into the mountain pastures for 1 1/2 months to graze on the fabulously lush green grasslands then they are sheltered and fed the dried grass that is carefully cultivated in every pasture available.
According to Herr Landwirt/Signore Coltivatore, the grey cows give 5000 to 6000 liters of milk a year and the black and white cows give 11000 liters of milk per year. but the black and white cows will only give milk for 3 to 4 years and then I suppose they become that week's beef special at the local market.
The raw milk is used to make a variety of different cheeses including ricotta, mozzarella and herbed hard cheeses.
Herr/Signore was in the process of making a batch when we visited. He makes cheese twice a week on Mondays and Wednesdays using 250 liters of raw milk each time. The milk is gently heated to 32.3C using indirect solar heat and a culture is added and let rest for 20 minutes to begin the curdling process. A wire comb is pulled through the vat for 30 minutes to break up the curds and keep them from becoming too solid.
The next step is to drain off the liquid. This liquid contains no fat and can be used to make ricotta or fromage frais or to bathe in to keep your skin dewy soft...personally I would stick to spreading the fromage frais on my brot/pane.
From the 250 liters of milk he processed this day, 30 cheese molds were formed. Each mold was turned and pressed four times over an hour to completely drains off the whey.
The cheese is then held at 15C and 80% humidity until ready for market. The oldest cheese that he had in his cooling room was made in February 2011.
Herr/Signore and son proudly offered us a tasting of a local white wine along with the many varied types of cheeses that they make. Just as with bread making, it is completely amazing the different textures and tastes that you can achieve from the same basic ingredients and process.