“The mountain is freedom, sacrifice.”
These words from a young cheesemaker open the video Don’t Show Me How It’s Done, Tell Me Its Story, dedicated to the Heritage Bitto Presidium. The images transport us to the Valtellina pastures of the Gerola and Albaredo valleys, in the Lombard province of Sondrio, as we see cows grazing freely on mountain herbs and grasses and hear from elderly herders who explain their choice of life in thick dialect.
The camera then takes us inside the room where Bitto is aged. The cheeses are produced every day throughout the summer, in the morning and the evening when the milk is still warm. The milk from the cows is mixed with 10 to 20% of Orobica goat’s milk, contributing aromatic qualities and persistence. We hear from Paolo Ciapparelli, the Presidium coordinator and a member of the consortium for the protection of heritage Bitto, which has been working for years to promote the cheese. “You should never be ashamed of your own story, or where you come from. We were lucky that this was already a great product. But all great products succeed through great sacrifices.”
We also meet many young people, like Michele, who has been milking cows for 16 years, and Stefano, now 20, who began making cheese when he was 17, following the tradition of his father and his brother. These “revolutionaries” care for and protect the meadows and the grass, refusing to give commercial feed to their livestock. They have learned the trade by growing up with it, by observing what the older generations did. “There is only one future,” continues Paolo, “that young people work like their grandparents, but do the explanation in English. When my parents would go to Morbegno they thought they were in a different country. Today journalists come from Japan to interview them.”
The last place we visit is a cheese bank, a vault where the forms age for six or seven years, or even more, transforming Bitto into one of the world’s rarest cheeses. The bank was started with a specific objective, to make sure producers were given a fair price, so that they could continue to work in the traditional way and earn a fair income. And it is this fair income, along with pride in being able to continue such an ancient yet also contemporary trade, that points to the future for farming, in Valtellina but also elsewhere.
The video Don’t Show Me How It’s Done, Tell Me Its Story has been produced with support from the European Union.
Photo credit: © R.Moiola CLICKALPS