Pulling Mozz

Andrea, il casaro. Photo by: J. Agyemang

This is Andrea. He is probably one of the happiest men I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. He’s a very generous man, and always gives his customers generous samples of cheese, even though he knows they have already had a taste. His cheese is the best cheese I have ever tasted in my life, and it’s probably because he himself put in the blood, sweat, and tears to make it (not literally). Along with fresh ingredients and a happy spirit, I think any food can be just as tasty as his cheese.

His philosophy: Ask questions, listen to the answers, and enjoy life with the people you love most.

When I was in Italy this past summer with the UT Nutrition program, I had the opportunity to help the local cheese maker make mozzarella cheese. It was by far one of the coolest and most fun experiences I’ve had in life.

Cheese making in Syracuse, Italy starts at 4am, when Andrea, the cheese maker or casaro, drives up to his little cheese shop in his little van full of milk. Every morning, he makes the one and a half hour journey to Ragusa to get milk from some of the best, and happiest cows in the country so that his mozzarella will be extra fresh and extra tasty. I remember almost being run over when he finally arrived that morning. I think he was in a hurry because he was running behind schedule. Upon his arrival, we began to help unload all the various cheese products he brought from Ragusa such as pecorino (sheep) cheese, little cheese wheels, and a whole lot of other cheese products, obviously. When the time came to pump the milk from the van to the back of the shop, he stopped us and began to tell us the most important trait of the milk that was sitting and waiting only a short distance away from where we were standing. Il latte è vivo!” “The milk is alive!” he said as he flashed his hands at us as if they were flashing lights. This means, that the milk is unpasteurized and still contains the original bacteria in it that comes from the cow. The bacteria in the milk helps in the fermentation process and gives the cheese a distinct and fresh flavor.

After hours of inoculating and stirring large containers of milk, sticking our hands in boiling water, and pulling mozzarella, we were finally done, and he sent us all home with a small package of pecorino cheese and thanked us for our help. On my walk home, (by this time, it was 7am) I began thinking to myself, “Why is the food system is so much different here than it is in the states?” Every city I visited in Sicily had a fresh market that was open daily with fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, bread, and cheese, all very affordable too. I can’t ever remember spending more than €10 ($15) at the market for a few days worth of food. I think the majority of it has to do with lifestyle and life views. The views of success in the states and in Sicily are quite different. Most people I spoke with in Sicily preferred a slow and humble lifestyle viewing success as living a long happy life with friends and family, while most people in the states are fast paced and want to be recognized for anything and everything, viewing success as having money, and a lot of it (in general of course). I know a lot of different factors come into play when it comes to our current food system other than just philosophical views, but ultimately, I think that’s what it comes down to.

The people get what they ask for.

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