Sicily is home to ancient cheesemaking traditions, perhaps some of the oldest in Europe, but they are little known outside the island. Sicilian cheeses are mostly eaten within the region, and can be hard to find elsewhere, even in Italy. Despite its rich biodiversity of dairy, only Sicilian pecorino and Ragusano are fairly well known.
The Sicilian Traditional Cheese Promotion Week, held from May 24 to June 1, offers an excellent opportunity to sample the wealth of Sicilian cheeses, with many seminars dedicated to the region’s products and producers, and the launch of Sicilian Roots, the new site created by the Lactimed project.
Co-funded by the European Union, the project is promoting the production and marketing of the Mediterranean’s typical dairy products by supporting development projects for producers and creating new markets for their products. In particular, in Sicily, Lactimed is working to highlight the cultural (as well as gastronomic) value of this little-known heritage.
The website Sicilian Roots (available soon in English) presents the Sicilian producers who already belong to the Slow Food network (including eight Presidia) and other producers who follow the Slow philosophy: using raw milk, allowing their animals to graze freely, raising local breeds and protecting cheesemaking traditions and ancient knowledge. The objective is to provide cheese-lovers with a site where they can browse producers and read about the history of their dairies, what products they make, how much they cost and where they can be found. The site also has a section for hospitality, listing restaurants that serve the cheeses and farms that offer accommodation and locating them on a Google map.
Sicily’s cheeses are, of course, the basis of many of the island’s most famous sweets, like cassata, cannoli and many other cakes, cookies and more. Below is a recipe for a classic pudding made from ricotta and wheat, cuccìa di Santa Lucia.
The pudding is traditionally made for Saint Lucy’s feast day. Several different legends explain its origin. The version told in Syracuse recounts that during a terrible famine, ships miraculously appeared and unloaded a cargo of wheat at the port. The starving Syracusans couldn’t wait for it to be ground into flour and so they ate the grains simply boiled.
Cuccìa Dolce di Santa Lucia Recipe
200 g/1 cup durum wheat berries
200 g/3/4 cup sheep’s milk ricotta, sieved
60 g/1/3 cup caster sugar
100 g/2/3 cup candied orange peel
50 g/1/3 cup dark chocolate chips
1 vanilla bean, scraped, or 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
5 drops of cinnamon oil or 1 tsp ground cinnamon
Soak the wheat for at least two days, changing the water every 12 hours. Drain the wheat and boil in abundant water until the grains are al dente.
Drain and leave to cool.
Beat the ricotta and sugar together until smooth, then add the wheat, orange peel, chocolate chips, vanilla and cinnamon, and stir until combined.
Serve in small dishes or glass bowls.
50 minutes, plus soaking time for the wheat
Slow Food protects traditional raw-milk dairy products around the world through its Slow Cheese campaign. Find out more at www.slowfood.com/slowcheese