Fresh ricotta on grilled bread
I don’t know if you have access to fresh ricotta made this morning but I bought mine from the cheese maker next door while staying at the off the beaten path agriturismo Palazzo del Duca in Tavernelle. A blog post about the experience is in the making but I had to use the cheese right away so here is one of the ways I used it, simplicity itself, and in the words of Leonardo da Vinci, “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”. I don’t know if he really said it but that’s what I read and I am sticking to it.
The fresh ricotta was still warm when Mirella and I bought it from Claudia Boschetti in Tavernelle. Claudia makes cheese with milk that her husband Giancarlo milks by hand from their herd of black sheep. I never knew these kind of sheep existed, and they look more like goats with their horns, but trust me, they are sheep.
Giancarlo is a sheppard in the traditional sense of the word. He herds his sheep and goats everyday up the slopes of the lower Appenine mountains in Licciana Nardi, with dogs to help him round up and control the herd. These dogs are so smart and well trained that if the herd is crossing the road and a car comes by the dogs know how to split the herd to both sides of the road creating an opening for the car to go through.
We first encountered Giancarlo and his sheep when we drove down the road and suddenly saw this incredible sight of Giancarlo and his herd. I was so anxious to get out of the car to photograph the scene that I fell flat out into the grassy ditch, tripping on the strap of my purse that was laying on the floor of the car and by the time I got up and reoriented he was half way up the hill. Not being one to give up I ran after him and his herd hoping to take a picture but he was fast and I was slow trying to avoid stepping into the dropping that the herd left behind, so I only managed to catch the back of the herd going up the path. The sight and the sound of the bells on the sheep was something I would not soon forget.
It was only when Mirella and I went to buy the cheese that I realized that it was Giancarlo’s wife who makes the cheese on the ground floor of their home. Their business is well known in the area and you have to reserve the cheese to be sure you get it. She can only make so much each day. Several agriturismi (that’s plural in Italian) in the area buy cheese from Claudia. Giancarlo and Claudia’s business is called Azienda Agricola Boschetti Giancarlo and you can find them at Via val d’Enza 23, Tavernelle (MS), Italy.
Giancarlo is the only sheppard still herding his sheep up into the upper Appenine range in the spring and he stays up there with them for three months. The sheep graze on the vegetation all summer before descending back to the village late summer or early fall. To get to the upper meadows Giancarlo walks his herd through the narrow street of the medieval village in Tavernelle and Francesco Sari, who, together with Mirella own the Pallazzo del Duca, took a wonderful video of the entourage in June of this year, a truly unique sight.
The ricotta is made from sheep’s milk but depending on the day Claudia may mix in goats milk (80%-20% or variations). This is truly an artisanal operation so it varies depending on the supply. Giancarlo milks a few of the sheep and goats ever day, by hand, depending onwhich ones are producing milk and Claudia then makes a few different cheeses, including fresh pecorino and then ricotta from the whey. Claudia places the whey in copper pots and brings it to boil, then collects the solids that rise to the top. She then places them in cheesecloth pouches and hangs them to drip, the resulting content being ricotta.
The cheese has a natural sweetness and is wonderful as a filling for homemade ravioli, with local chestnut flour pancakes, on crostini or simply with honey. The cheese is unpasteurized, straight from the sheeps’ milk.
I grilled bread over the gas burner to make it special, brushed it with olive oil and spooned the cheese over. I drizzled a little olive oil on top. A small spoon of Ligurian pesto went on one, one was plain and one with a drizzle of chestnut honey that I brought back from Tavernelle. My friend Val of More than Burnt Toast suggested roasted tomatoes on top, which would have been delicious too, but I don’t have them now.
See if anyone in your area is making fresh ricotta and try to get some. It’s worth the extra effort.
4 slices of country bread
1 cup fresh ricotta
pesto, roasted tomatoes, fresh tomatoes, chetnust honey (or another kind)
Grill the bread over open flame to get the little burnt parts, but not too burnt. The slices should not be completely crisp and retain some softness.
Brush the grilled bread with olive oil, or drizzle it over the bread in a thin stream.
Spoon ricotta over each grilled bread, and top as you wish with tomatoes (roasted or fresh), good pesto or a drizzle of honey.