Let’s Talk Cheese: Part 9

In the Valle del Belice in Trapani Province, Sicily, they produce a DOP (Denominazione d’Origine Protetta or Protected Designation of Origin) certified “pasta filata” (stretched/pulled) cheese called Vastedda della Valle del Belice. The name, vastedda, comes from the local Sicilian language–vasta means “gone bad.” In other words, the cheese is made from pecorino cheese that didn’t make the cut.

It’s a complex process, that goes something like this: The cheese maker takes the defective pecorino cheese, places it in wooden barrels and then adds hot sheep’s milk with rennet in it (in Italian: caglio), filling the barrels and covering the pecorino curds with the hot liquid. He lets the concoction sit, heating the pecorino and therefore softening it. When he deems it the consistency he wants, the maker takes his cheese paddle and begins to break up the moisturized pecorino curds, this mixing results in a creamy, gooey product–think mozzarella, yet with sheep’s milk cheese.

The cheese maker, using his paddle, allows the cheese to become like putty–he pulls it and pushes it. If you’ve seen mozzarella being made, it’s a very similar process. Once the mixture becomes a stretchy, white goo, the maker pulls smaller pieces, shaping them with his hands, and then places them in bowls, forming the shape of the soft, smooth cheese. Like its distant cousin, mozzarella, it has a soft consistency and must be eaten fresh, within three days of production. Pictured is Salvatore Cucchiara, pulling the cheese; the cheese placed in the bowls to form; and the packed cheese.

Pair it with fresh tomatoes, olive oil, and oregano, and you’re complete!

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