Carmelina Colantuono is something of an Italian legend. Not only is she one of only a tiny handful of women cheesemakers in the country, but she is also the fourth generation cheesemaker in her family.
Based in Frosolone during the winter months, Carmelia is also affectionately referred to as “the Last Cow Girl” - a nod to the fact she continues to practice the ancient tradition of transhumance. This involves shepherding her herd of 240 Podolico cows on a 250 km journey at the beginning of summer and back again in the autumn between Frosolone and Abruzzo in order to access fresh summer pasture.
The journey takes three days traversing difficult terrain and a considerable difference of altitude ranging from 180 meters (590 ft) to 1300 meters (4265 ft). However, according to Carmelina, some of the greatest challenges lie in the interface of traditional transhumace with modern day life. Coordinating the cows’ route with the various local police and other authorities to ensure traffic management and safety is time consuming and at times, nerve-wracking.
The Podolico are a particularly hardy breed of cow with a strong ability to adapt to harsh, mountainous conditions where other breeds would not survive. This trait, together with their capacity to produce high quality milk, has been the main reason for their survival down the centuries.
For production of Caciocavallo Podolico Colantuano, the milk is first filtered and poured into a wooden tub which, due to its porous nature, acts as a natural starter culture. In addition, the cultures are given a boost by adding a small quantity of the previous day’s whey or curd to encourage acidification. The milk is heated to between 96.8-100.4º F (36-38ºC) and rennet added to coagulate the milk.
After approximately thirty minutes, the curds are cut by hand and some of the whey is drained off. The curds are then allowed to “rest” in the remaining whey for two hours before being transferred to another vat containing water at 176ºF (80ºC). There, the curds soften, allowing them to be pulled and stretched by hand into the desired shape before being dunked into cold water to harden.
Caciocavallo Podolico Colantuano is a "pasta filata" style of cheese, meaning that the curd is stretched. The unusual gourd type shape of the Caciocavallo is a result of the young cheeses being tied with rope to make a "neck" and then suspended over a wooden rod to mature.
The texture is firm and dense and similar to chocolate in that it flakes slightly when cut. It is also possible to see the striations where curd has been pulled.