Chiaromonte, a small town with about 2,000 inhabitants, lies on a rocky spur at 794 metres above sea level overlooking the valley of the river Sinni in the South and the valley of the Serrapotamo stream in the North. Surrounded by the green territory of Pollino National Park, among woods, centuries-old oaks, olive groves and elderberry plants, in Contrada Battifarano, you can find the breeding and dairy farm Stellato (n.d.t. In English = Starlit). Its owner Maria welcomes us.
The farm was founded in the 40s and was run by her husband’s family. In 1995, Maria started her activity there and “previously I had never worked in husbandry” but “overcoming the many initial difficulties, also related to my prejudice towards the world of agriculture, I learned how to process and make high quality cheese”. “Today I look after the processing of our cheese which is made from raw milk”. “Cheese is put into small reed baskets which gives it its shape and unique flavour”.”Reed baskets allow one to taste the heart of the cheese, which cannot be if it is shaped in plastic containers. Reed can still be found by the river and allows us to cure cheese better, as our ancestors had discovered”. “Seasoning then ends in a cave. As well as goat, sheep and mixed cheese according to the time of year, our dairy produces goat cacioricotta, hard and baked ricotta, a cream cheese created by Mary, and a fresh cheese flavored with the herbs available in the mountain pastures of Chiaromonte, from which our customers can choose.
“My company is an organic farm”. “Goats graze every day in the surrounding forest which is rich in wild fennel, thyme and lesser calamint that makes their milk special and unique. Genuineness, healthiness, taste and smell characterise my cheese. For the welfare of animals and the quality of products, the goats’ diet is also integrated with cereals produced on the farm”. “Until 1998 we used to raise cross-breeds, but then we decided to focus on a more structured company, competitive but sustainable”. Today, the Stellato company has more than 600 head of Sardinian sheep and Saanen goats.
“My previous sales experience has been of great help in the creation of the existing sales channels for my cheese.” “I sell ricotta to the stores of the neighboring villages, while cheese is sold directly on the farm and in summer I travel throughout the regional territory and further afield. Recently, I’ve been trying to sell my products to specialised stores, where customers are able to assess their quality”. “We have lots of regular customers who preorder my cheese and travel to my farm to buy it and also visit the dairy and the caves where seasoning happens”. To Maria, innovation means “giving voice to and recovering tradition: the use of reed baskets and seasoning in the cave”. But Maria also produces new types of cheeses such as “the cream cheese that has recently received national acknowledgment and been ranked among the three top Italian cheeses in the competition ” PREMIO ROMA ”.
The Stellato company has many projects. “Allowing children to get to know the animals on the farm, and the goats in particular, giving people the chance to taste fresh milk, and showing them how to make cheese is a great satisfaction because I really believe in the recovery of the flavours and traditions of my childhood, revisited through innovation”. Among the new projects there is also the renovation of a family farmhouse to start a holiday farm; the project also involves Maria’s son. “Being a cheese maker is a difficult job, it is demanding and requires great dedication and sacrifice, but it is also rewarding”. Maria talks about her future expectations and, knowing her son’s passion for the farm, hopes that “once he finishes university, he can have his experiences and then, if he maintains his passion, he can come and work in our company”. “The projects we are starting are numerous, important, and require my presence and my commitment in the company with the ability and necessity to change when needed”.