Last week, I spent a very cool morning in an area of Tuscany that I didn’t know existed (nor did most of the Italians I asked) called Lamporecchio. I toured a tiny farm property (located at the top of a steep winding hill with no visible number nor any indication that there might be a home down the unmarked dirt road) and tasted cheeses with local farmer and cheese-maker, Francesco of I Due Falchetti.
Francesco owns a total of 11 cows (though there are two new babies on the farm currently-one of which he and his family will be eating and therefore he refuses to name). Seven Red Cows and four Grey Alpine cows. According to Francesco, the milk from the Alpine cows is a bit thicker and stronger in flavor than the red and white cows thanks to their hearty stock, and their tendency to eat pretty much anything (including olives and olive leaves); whereas the lovely more refined red and white cows eat pretty much only the fresh hay they are fed, and then grass and herbs. The grey and white Alpine cows are stocky, with super muscular legs thanks to their lineage (mountain cows who must climb around on mountains and keep their balance).
He sells 80% of his cheeses, direct to customers (taking orders via phone and dropping them off at points where people come and pick them up or selling to those that come and visit him).He makes only cows milk cheeses (says he doesn’t like the personality of sheep and so doesn’t want to add any to his farm), which are closest in style to Caciotta, when trying to define them in terms of Tuscan cheeses.
I tasted about six or seven cheeses with Francesco in the little dark cool room off the side of his cheese-making room (both in his house), freshly sliced from wheels sitting and the shelves there. Different shapes help him tell the differences in styles. Most differences, according to Francesco are only due to the ways the cheeses are heated, stirred, how much of each milk is used (from each type of cow) and which enzymes (or coagulating agents) are used (for rennet), since they aren’t really aging cheeses. Though he did have two categories of cheeses: those aged only a few days before selling/eating and those aged a few weeks.
Francesco’s cheeses are more or less eaten fresh (only a few days of aging), like most Tuscan cheeses are designed to be. The cheeses that I tasted ranged from soft, creamy, rich, and white or pale yellow to firmer textured, more complex, and stronger flavored (as well as darker yellow with a slightly tough rind). Some were coated in red pepper or chives. The most complex flavor profile I tasted, was that of Francesco’s ‘cheese in a black t-shirt’, a cheese coated in black pepper (of course he said this name in Italian ‘nella una camincia nera’ ), that had been made with a higher percentage of the grey Alpine cow’s milk (a bit stronger and more diverse flavor according to Francesco) and stirred for much longer and prepared a bit more carefully (tough to translate exactly what Francesco was saying at this point-my technical cheese-making Italian isn’t 100%).
Though sheep’s milk cheeses are still my favorite in the world, this guy makes some awesome cows milk cheeses, and was generous enough to meet me at his home and give me the full tour and tasting treatment. He isn’t on any tourist ‘trail’ in Tuscany. I only found a phone number and an address. I called him originally to request the appointment (of course using my Italian and hoping I wasn’t screwing anything up). His home and farm were nowhere near anything else of note in Tuscany that you might be visiting…. so it’s kind of a stop you’ll want to take simply for it’s own sake (and of course driving around any area of Tuscany is beautiful). Lamporecchio is about an hour’s drive from Lucca.
It’s these kinds of tastings and meetings that remind me of how important it is to support small farms, and small businesses. It’s why I spent my entire twenties living in Sonoma County, working with wineries and sourcing cheese, and meat, and oil from small local producers for our events. There’s something special about this tangible connection to the earth, that you find when you use products grown in your own backyard (or the backyard of wherever you may be traveling) with characteristics unique to the land, soil, and farming methods. The small businesses you support, are also add to the beauty and value of shopping and eating this way.
Support small businesses! Like Francesco here. And if you can’t make it to Italy to taste cheese…
Try your own backyard.
There are some spots who do this kind of farming and small production of cheeses, in California (I love the guys doing it in Sonoma and Marin counties!) and all over the U.S. It just takes time to find them. I’m here to help if you need tips!