My second post from Italy! And everything’s getting better

My second post from Italy! Since I have such a little amount of time on the internet here on the farm, Ricardo had the wonderful idea that I should just type on my computer, save it, and transfer over to the other computer once I can. Hopefully this works or there are just going to be a ton of the them all at once when I get home. I only have about an hour and a half or two to do everything on the internet I need to and (of course) the majority of that is talking to my parents and Ricardo on Skype.

Anyway… my second post from Italy will hopefully be a little better than the first. I ranted a lot in that last one as I was trying to get everything on my mind down on paper (so to speak). Of course, I forgot some stuff.

Today I woke up early so that I could watch the beginning stages of the hard cheeses. Up until this point, I’d been waking up at 6:15 or so to be at work at 7. Today I was up at 4 so I could be there at 5 (though we didn’t actually start until 5:30 or so). I still don’t know the names of the cheeses or what makes them different, except for how the exterior looks. I would assume it has something to do with the culture used (the bacteria that forms the mold) but I’m not sure. Once I can communicate better, it’s on my list of questions. Anyway. We started making cheese around 5:30. Interestingly enough, the milk starts its journey being pasteurized, which I’d been told usually doesn’t happen in Italy. In the U.S. there are a lot of regulations around pasteurization and raw milk. In Italy, I’m not sure (yet) but they do pasteurize their milk to kill bacteria he told me (I think, anyway). During pasteurization the milk is heated up to about 160 degrees (Fahrenheit) to kill anything living in it. For the type of cheese we made today, the milk is then cooled down to 40 degrees Celsius and the culture’s added. Then it is cooled a further 4 degrees to 36 degrees Celsius and the rennet is added. To do this, I had this big wooden stick (I’ve already forgotten what it’s called) that looks kind of like a wizard’s staff that I stirred the milk with “veloce” (really quickly) while he slowly poured the rennet. Then we brought the milk to a stop by holding the stick still and to mix up the milk and then let it sit. On the counter, they have a sheet too keep track of temperature, culture name, rennet name, and amount of time things are sitting. Once the cheese has set, they have another instrument to cut it. It’s a long wooden stick with a big metal ball on the end, so it looks kind of like a whisk. Then they pull it in and out of the cheese really fast and in a certain pattern to cut the cheese into a bunch of tiny curdles that swim in their own whey. After it’s all cut up, we carefully fill molds with the curdles. I say carefully, because at this point, they try to save as much whey as possible to make ricotta. The curds are squished into the molds and pressed to get out the whey and make the cheese form a whole piece. Then it is flipped and put in a big vat where they drain and cook for about 5 hours, being flipped every half hour or so. After that, they are taken out of the molds and left in a big vat of salt water over night until the next morning. Then they are put in the refrigerator with the other cheeses to mold and build a rind.

So that’s one kind of cheese! I don’t know what kind it is, so more on that some time. The other kind of cheese I’ve gotten familiar with is the ricotta (which, by the way, is so delicious. I’ve never had ricotta like this). All the whey from the hard cheeses is collected and put in a big vat where it is stirred slowly and gently (piano, piano) and heated until it reaches a certain temperature (I can’t remember what it is!) and the ricotta starts to rise to the top. Then the stirring stops and we lay out little molds. With slotted spoons, we scoop the ricotta from the whey and fill the molds (veloce ma delicatezza, fast but delicate. I’m still to slow at this for the Italians). As the whey drains, we fill the molds over and over until all the ricotta is out of the whey. Then we seal the top with plastic and put a label on them. Then they are delivered to the stores.

Besides cheese-making, I’ve been attempting to learn as much about Italian (and especially Calabrian) culture. As I think I said before and my host told me the other day, Calabria is a poor area. Here on the farm the family is very traditional, or so I am told and once you go into a bigger city you don’t find families like this as much. What they mean by this is that the nonna and nonno live in a tiny house (my house now, too) right next to the main house where Giuseppe, his wife, and daughter live. What I’ve noticed too is that gender roles are very well distinguished, which was difficult for me to adjust to. Before I left, my Italian teacher and I were talking about International Women’s Day that is celebrated in Italy and around the world. She said that maybe we don’t celebrate it here because women are treated relatively equally as compared to other places. I remember thinking “Seriously?” But it wasn’t until I got here and had to fall into the housewife gender role that I realized what she meant. The first day I got here immediately following lunch the nonno and one of the sons that comes to lunch every day went into the bedroom to rest. Nonna Maria cleaned the kitchen. Not knowing what to do (or how to ask if I could help) I kind of awkwardly watched and tried to help a little. Later I was told that I was to be like a daughter, and a daughter’s duty is to help clean after lunch. I don’t have a problem with this, of course. I’ve been living on my own now for a couple years and know how to clean. I just couldn’t help but feel bad for Nonna Maria, who wakes up at 5:30 and takes care of everyone else; making breakfast and lunch, cleaning, taking care of the bambina, more cleaning, watching the fire, doing laundry, and more cleaning. I don’t think she actually goes to bed at any point to sleep, though she does sit in a little lawn chair by the fireplace watching news and soap operas. I know I shouldn’t feel bad because she’s happy and she’s been doing this all her life, I’m sure. So now I don’t. I feel like she has a testa dura (strong head) and is independent, not wanting help with a lot of the chores. But I do try to help out as much as possible.

For the first couple days I felt very lonely. I think I alluded to this in my earlier post, but the first couple days were tough. Once I got here, I realized I only had access to internet about an hour every day (if that) and my phone wasn’t working. I realized that I was in a foreign country where I could barely communicate and I had almost no access to family or friends. I’m already a very shy person and I constantly worry about pleasing people, so in addition to feeling isolated because of language, I was worried that I was going to do something that insulted the family and made them hate me (my fear was helped along by Giuseppe giving me a talking to about helping nonna clean). But then, comfort came in the form of Nonno Alfredo and an Italian Western movie. I can’t even remember what they movie was called, but it was an Italian movie all about the American west. One night after nonna went to bed, this movie came on and Nonno Alfredo told me to sit and watch it. It was extremely silly. I couldn’t understand a lot of what they were saying, but it was so outrageously melodramatic that I could get the gist of it. An outlaw and his Native American friend (a white guy in make-up and an outrageous version of Indian garb) hold up a train and steal a briefcase. While running away, they hide in a barn and get found out by the family. Seeing the briefcase, which turns out to be a doctor’s case, they assume the man is a doctor. The man is then recruited to be the town doctor and he fakes his way through a number of ailments. In the meantime the bad guy shows up and it turns out this man is a total badass and saves the town. He then finds out that the Sheriff is in cahoots with the bad guy. This is where I stopped watching. But the whole movie was full of cheesy fights and silly anecdotes (like an eating competition between the fake doctor and the Sheriff). The whole time, Nonno Alfredo is laughing his ass off, hitting me on the shoulder and saying “guarda, guarda” or “look, look.” I just laughed the whole time, both because of the ridiculous movie and out of happiness. At that point I felt like I was watching a movie with my own grandpa. Though it’s still been tough, that was a turning point for me.

So, that’s pretty much all I have for now. At some point I’ll be taking some pictures. I realized once I got here that I don’t have a converter for electricity. The computer automatically does it and so does my iPod charger, but the charger for the batteries doesn’t. So, I have to make sure I can get a hold of others before I waste all the battery on something. I went on a drive with Giuseppe the other day and we went up to the top of a mountain where we could look down on Morano and the farm and all their land. I’m thinking of taking a picture from up there and then one looking down on Parma, to compare the scenery. It’s pretty crazy, seeing the differences between agriculture plots. I’ll have to just show you all sometime.

I’ll be keeping you posted as much as I can from now on. I’m starting to get into somewhat of a routine, so that’ll be easier.

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