Slow Food Heroes: a 4.0 shepherd helps Covid care units

16 Sep 2021

Leonardo is a young Italian farmer who three years ago moved from Rome to Abruzzo, the land of his ancestors. He runs Casetta Bianca, a goat farm in the small town of Lettopalena (Abruzzo), where he makes excellent artisanal cheeses, all with raw milk and using only traditional methods. During the Covid-19 pandemic he decided to donate the entire proceeds from his farm’s Easter product sale to Covid intensive care units.     

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Photo by Tommaso d’Errico

I’m 36 years old. After a degree in animal husbandry, I decided to leave Rome and live in my grandparents’ land. Looking back at the last 5 years, I studied, delved into the techniques of milk processing, met the local goat herders, listened to their stories, regrouped all these pieces and made my decision. 

When I arrived here, I knew I wanted to raise goats, but not which goats. Coming from study and work experiences focused on breeding in northern Italy, I was almost convinced that I wanted to introduce purebred goats, with those beautiful udders that promise the cheesemaker liters and liters of milk: a dream for those who, like me, could not wait to start their own laboratory and begin to put into practice their studies and experiences accumulated in the dairies of other companies.

So, I began to roam the pastures surrounding the Casetta, in search of answers. I got to know the plants, the trees and the woods, but most of all I got to know the local shepherds; shepherds who are the sons of shepherds. I got to know their flocks, I saw them grazing on these mountains and made up my mind: breaking the link with the territory by introducing goats from other places would have been a resounding loss, with serious short and long-term consequences both for the herd itself and for the mountain that hosts it.

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Photo by Tommaso d’Errico

Today, I have my herd of 140 goats, the pastures, the cheese farm where I process only the milk of my goats, strictly raw, without adding adjuvants or enzymes. Goats are not purebred, they are meticulous goats coming from the flocks of the oldest shepherds who have been living in these pastures for centuries and who have established a complex biological relationship with the territory in which they live, one that has been perfected over time and is indispensable for the preservation of the ecosystem.

The decision to take back the herds from here is one that has entailed and still entails sacrifices and renunciations, both in terms of quantity and in terms of the lactation period. These goats are the genetic basis on which to begin a long work of improvement, which will only partially take into consideration productive traits. Because their genetics were formed on the territory, and it is they, more than anything else, who carry within them the history, traditions and soul of these mountains.

I like the idea of reviving the Abruzzo cheese-making tradition in places where the role of the herdsman is disappearing and where it has historically been a contributing figure to the economy and history of this area.  

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Photo by Tommaso d’Errico

As mentioned, I process all the milk produced on the farm, making a wide variety of cheeses, mainly lactic coagulation cheeses, strictly made with raw milk, of medium maturity, seasoned or refined with herbs and wild fruits that the pastureland of the goats offers us (bear garlic, juniper, hazelnut, etc.). In the dairy, I process exclusively the milk of my goats, from which I obtain the grafts and of which I try to exalt the different nuances deriving from the seasonality of the pasture. The production is limited, due to the genetic type of goats bred and their diet, which in the period of production consists only of mountain pasture plus a minimal integration of raw materials (corn and beans). As for the sale, we have our company store that, especially on weekends, brings many people to visit us, to buy products or just to know the goats (that now our followers recognize and call by name (the power of social media!). We also collaborate with some selected restaurants in the area.

So, my personal story is intertwined with that of the region and with the complicity of my beloved Irene, who has come back to the land of my grandparents, who repay me by offering a house, or rather a “casetta” – a little house, for my future project. A project that strengthens a pact amongst generations and territory and enters with subtlety into the ordeal of the most dramatic days of the pandemic. 

From the Majella area and my small farm, Casetta Bianca, which during not-too-distant times was a protagonist of Second World War stories of resistance and salvation, comes an outstretched hand, a burst of generosity to be spent in the war economy against COVID 19.

I stepped up during the most dramatic moment of the Coronavirus emergency, with the intent to add a new link to the solidarity chain that was supporting the Italian public health system during those difficult days. 

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Photo by Tommaso d’Errico

On March 23, 2020 I wrote on social media to share my concern for the situation and I followed with apprehension the news that travelled up here, in the mountains, in the pastures that welcomed me. So, I asked myself: how can I do my part to help the community face this terrible moment? I, who as a herdsman, have had the enormous privilege of being able to continue working. 

So, I decided to donate the entire proceeds from the Easter farm product sale to the intensive care units of the ASL Lanciano Vasto Chieti, to support the intensive assistance that the sick desperately needed.

The initiative has been joined by individuals, local authorities and institutions, buying traditional Easter products (kid and cheese), with the awareness of contributing, with their purchase, to the donation.

The initiative has been sponsored by the Majella National Park and the Municipality of Lettopalena, which have contributed, in this way, to increase the media attention.

On Easter 2020, I closed the Easter sales and donated the sum of €4,300, to the account dedicated to the Covid-19 Emergency of the ASL Lanciano Vasto Chieti.

My support aimed to evoke a distant yet present feeling of a 4.0 shepherd, who has combined his studies, modern technology and the precious know-how passed on by the elders of the trade in order to create “Casetta Bianca”, a small company born out of an abandoned stable. 

 

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Slow Food Heroes is a project financed by European Cultural Foundationwith the contribution of CRC Foundation.

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