Roccaverano is Italy’s only DOP goat’s cheese. It is produced in only 10 small municipalities in the province of Asti and Alessandria, including Roccaverano, from which it takes its name and where the Protection Consortium is situated.
Giandomenico Negro is an oenologist and he likes his job. But if there had been a cheesemaking institute in Alba, his life would probably have been different. ‘I wanted to do a job connected with the land and farming. In Alba there was a wine school, so I enrolled there.’ But cheese was in his destiny, nonetheless. In 1998, Negro, the great winemaker, decided to go into partnership with Valter Porro. Together they formed ‘Arbiora’ and started taking an interest in Roccaverano. ‘In the High Langa district of Piedmont, this furmagetta, or table cheese, is to be found in every household. Many people actually make it themselves, if they happen to own a goat or two. Those who don’t, buy it from their neighbors or friends. It must be a pretty unique phenomenon of diffuse phenomenon of dairy production. I reckon there must be at least 80 producers still active. ‘Negro hails from Cessole, so he’s always been familiar with goats and cheese. His mother’s family used to produce Roccaverano: they had seven or eight goats, which grazed on the hills overlooking the Valle Bormida, and at home the kids learnt to make cheese from a very early age. Then when my mother got married and left home, she started buying from farmers. Never just from on, because cheese changes according to the season and the pastureland. Maybe empirically, but with an incontrovertible criterion of taste.’
Anyway, five of six years ago, Giandomenico realized that the authentic taste of Roccaverano was beginning to disappear It was no longer the cheese of his childhood, and it was becoming increasingly difficult to find the stuff. ‘It’s hard work making goat’s cheese and, until a few years ago, it was poorly paid job. Which is why some producers took the short cut of adding cow’s milk. But the fact is that cattle breeding isn’t suitable in this area – there’s not enough pastureland. But that’s the direction Italian agriculture was moving in at that time. It was all quantity, rationalization and simplification. Nobody ever mentioned typical produce. Even the Cheesemaking Cooperative married this philosophy and the Roccaverano production discipline spelt the end for historical Roccaverano. Hence the birth of Arbiora, a desperate gesture to salvage whatever possible.’
Giandomenico Negro’s Presidium was ahead of its time. He brought together producers who were still making cheese the traditional way with non-pasteurized goat’s milk, persuaded them to improve their produce and pledged to guarantee them a fair price. Arbiora collected. Arbiora ripened. Arbiora marketed. With the name and the surname of the producer clearly marked on the packaging. ‘Producers have to feel involved in the project. They deserve their fair share of gratification.’ Thanks to extraordinary commitment, following tastings, following Taste Workshops, following journeys round Italy, following contacts with wine producers, the real Roccaverano has begun to make a name for itself outside its area of origin. Its price is becoming accessible, too. It’s also improving in terms of value for money. The moment is still delicate, however. The first results of all the work done to date is now emerging, but there are still lots of problems to solve, and there’s the risk that the success of Roccaverano will spawn speculation. ‘We’ve got to have the discipline approved for the “Roccaverano classico” sub-denomination,’ argues Giandomenico, ‘to protect all-goat’s milk production. We’ve got to increase the population of Roccaverano goats. It’s also important to improve the average quality of the cheese and age it properly.’ In other words, the adventure is only about to begin.
Where to stay
Agriturismo Pîan del Duca
Località Paroldo 1
Tel. 0144 89050 – 0144 89325
Double room with breakfast, 90,000 lire.
Four pleasant, fully appointed rooms in a restructured family farmhouse surrounded by vineyards. Fine home cooking.
Regione Piancanelli 12
Tel. 0141 824799 – 0141 832670
Double room with breakfast, 125,000 lire.
Eight rooms in a restructured family farmhouse with antique Piedmontese furniture. Wonderful panorama and no less wonderful local cuisine.
Hotel Villa San Carlo
Corso Divisioni Alpine 41
Tel. 0173 81546
Prices: single room 95-105,000 lire, double room 150-170,000 lire.
23 comfortable rooms, swimming pool and summer garden. Mountain bikes available for excursions.
Where to eat
Cirio Madonna della neve
Località Madonna della Neve
Tel. 0144 80110
Price: 50,000 lire, wine excluded.
Super agnolotti served on a napkin, excellent, cured meats, raw meat salad, vitel tonné, roast kid. Plus fantastic Roccaverano.
Via Bruno, 1
Tel. 0144 953608
Price: 50,000, wine excluded.
Excellent and abundant local cuisine and a warm atmosphere.
Pietro Franco Barbero
Tel. 0144 89145
Excellent small, round cheeses reminiscent of the celebrated Crottin de Chavignol. A bit different from the classic Roccaverano.
Macelleria Fratelli Merlo
Via Grasso, 1
Tel. 0144 88251
Excellent homebred Piedmontese beef. Plus superb cured meats, Roccaverano, preserves, wines and pickles.
Piero Sardo, a gourmet and f&w writer, is a Slow Food vice-president and manager of the association’s Presidia Office