Save a Cheese: the ricotta forte

13 Sep 2013

It is very beneficial to the stomach, stirs the appetite, suppresses vomiting, helps digestion, kills off worms, generates blood and is very nourishing.

So one historian once testified about ricotta forte (called in various dialects: ricotta schianta, squanta, scante, ashcante, ascuante, uschiante, etc.). A white, creamy cheese, made from sheep or goats’ milk, spicy on the palate, pungent and flavorful and at the same time. It releases all of its sensuous power when spread on warm bread, fried in the typical panzerotti (stuffed zucchini blossom) or mixed with sagne ’ncannulate, a long pasta with a sauce from our part of Italy. A typical product of a thousand-year tradition from Puglia and Basilicata, the unique places in Italy where it is produced, ricotta forte was spread over bread and offered to guests as a sign of welcome with the addition of some red tomatoes. 

Its production is based on a traditional method; it has always been used by the shepherds of this area of Italy as a way to reuse the surplus that came with the daily springtime ricotta production, added day by day to wooden or clay containers with a bit of salt added each time. The mass of cheese, carefully mixed two or three times a week for at least three months, was then finally covered with fig leaves and, once the container was turned upside down, left to mature and drain properly before finally being conserved for months or even years. Ricotta forte, then, can be considered to have, to use a term dear to those in food bureaucracy, a very long shelf life. All natural, no preservatives, for centuries this cheese has been a nourishing and healthy food for farmers in the cold of winter. Lifting the lid from the terracotta pot, one would take the needed amount and serve it at the table. 

Now, with regards to European laws, this product must be strictly packaged, sterilized and deprived of the natural authenticity that is its fermentation. Its natural bacterial flora, a living, ever evolving material that traditionally nourished generations of human beings, is now considered unsanitary by the law, debased and challenged as an enemy of public health. Our great heritage of traditional products, living examples of human experience and imagination, is once again depleted and foolishly limited.

Sonya Orfalian  

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