Itria Bontà – Artisan Cheese Making in Puglia
It’s all about the food when I’m travelling, but having the opportunity to watch a local artisan cheese making hero in Southern Italy was a special treat!
During our visit to Southern Italy a few months back, The Bloke and I were lucky enough to be able to spend some time at Itria Bontà, a small family-owned farm near Alberobello that has been making organic, artisan products for over 70 years.
Now in the hands of scion Giorgio Spalluti, who learned his traditional artisan cheese making skills from his late father, Itria Bontà offers a range of handmade artisan cheeses and smallgoods from a shop front on the farm. The shop is only open three days a week, and the locals know they need to be quick – Giorgio only sells what he can make and age on the premises, and once it’s sold out there’s no more until he makes it.
The family keeps around 60-65 cows, plus a few pigs, all of which are lovingly cared for. Giorgio and his family enjoy the kind of familiarity with the livestock that only comes from authentic hands-on animal husbandry – absolutely the best quality control going.
This is a small, regional business, and Giorgio offers a selection of salamis and capocollo in the store, but I was there to watch him make some of the artisan cheese, including burrata, mozzarella and caciocavallo, that he is so well known for.
We begin our tour with a visit to the cows and calves, just in time to bottle feed some of the latter, who are mighty pleased to see us. From the cattle shed, we make our way to the cheese making premises.
Taking us through the process and beginning with curds from his own rich, fresh milk, produced just metres away from his cheese making room, Giorgio kneads, stretches, plaits and pinches, plunging his bare hands in and out of the hot water necessary to manipulate the cheese. He offers me the chance to try my hand, but I think I’m better behind the camera, rather than in front of it. 🙂
Once he’s demonstrated his skills at fashioning the soft, fresh cheeses, we get a peek in the ageing rooms where he keeps some of the cheeses that require maturing, and from there we are ushered into Giorgio’s mother’s dining room where The Bloke and I sit down to a generous selection of all the foods they produce on the farm.
For someone like me, whose passion and curiosity for regional food production knows no bounds, this is simply the most exciting experience to be able to have while travelling. I’m no stranger to cheese in Italy, having attended the fabulous Bra Cheese Festival a few years back. But to be able to spend time with a local producer on his home turf, in another country, always fills me with gratitude.
Regional food and wine is a crucial aspect of travel for me – what a joy it is to be able to watch it being made!
In October 2020, Australian food hero Lyndey Milan will be hosting a once-in-a-lifetime tour of Southern Italy with Southern Visions Travel. In this small-group tour, guests will enjoy a truly authentic food and wine gastronomy experience in Puglia and Basilicata (including an artisan cheese making visit) – two agricultural regions with rich regional culinary traditions – with Lyndey sharing her extensive knowledge of Mediterranean cuisines.
For full details of this exclusive culinary travel opportunity check out the link here.
Lambs’ Ears and The Bloke were guests of Southern Visions Travel for their Itria Bontà visit.