I spent this last weekend at the University of Wisconsin presenting my project at the National Conference for Undergraduate Research. It was such a great experience to share what I learned with others and to have them ask me great questions and seem genuinely interested! I will also be presenting a similar presentation at The College of Idaho’s Student Research Conference on April 27th.

On a similar note, I have received feedback on my final thesis and will be turing in the final draft here in the next couple weeks! Once I have that finished and finalized, I will also be posting a PDF file here on my blog and possibly applying to have in published in some research journals and with some cheese organizations. All very exciting. Thank you everyone for your support!


Battle of the Water

Battle of the Water

Here in Morano we are now in the heat of summer. It’s been consistently around 32-37 degrees Celsius here (85-95 Farenheit). Every day the groups of kids are still coming until the 20th and every morning we work in the caseificio still, though most of the days we aren’t making cheese anymore. This means we’re doing a whole lot of cleaning and Pina is doing a whole lot of washing cheese.

In the last couple months there have been a couple time Pina has sent me to tell the Indiani (the two Indian guys that work with the sheep) to turn the water on. I didn’t really understand what that meant or how the water system worked, so I just did what I was told. In the last couple weeks, the water has become an even bigger issue—either one of the shepherds or Nonno Alfredo will turn off the water around 9 and then we will try to clean. Then they tell me to go tell someone that there’s no water. Then Nonno Alfredo comes and yells at them for a while.

What it comes down to is this. The whole town of Morano, including the farm, gets their water from the mountains surrounding the town. They have a reservoir that they can turn on and off in order to use the water in the houses, caseificio, and for the animals. In the evening when the animals return from being pastured, they need to drink water. At this point in time, however, there is less water than earlier in the year because of how hot it is. This means that water has to be used sparingly. So, Nonno Alfredo turns off the water and then yells at the ladies in the caseificio for using it, since the goats need it in the evening. Then Giuseppe gets involved and tells him that they need it in the caseificio. Then Nonno and Nonna tell me about it and I’m thinking to myself, “what am I supposed to do about it?” So it’s been a funny couple weeks watching the whole thing unfold. At this point, it’s still unresolved, but that’s kind of just how Italians work.

Besides that, I’m just entering into my final full week on the farm and I can’t believe it’s already almost time to leave. I’ve started taking pictures with my real camera now, so I’ll be putting those up soon. We haven’t been making cheese as much lately because the American kids have been here every day and the preparations take up a lot of time. Plus,  there isn’t as much milk this time of year. However, I have been able to take a couple good shots, with hopefully more to come!

This may be the last post to come from the farm! It’s hard to imagine that in a little over a week I won’t be here anymore. I know I’ve already alluded to these sentiments, but it’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about. Hopefully at least one more post will come from Italy, however. Otherwise, be ready to hear from me again once I’m back in the U.S.!


Only one more month?!

Well, after a longer absence than I originally intended, I am finally posting again from Italy!

As of today I will officially be home in a month and be leaving the farm in about two and a half weeks. I can’t believe how fast time has flown. Even being a little homesick I can’t believe how fast the time has gone by and I’m starting to get to the point where I’m sad to leave. I hope to be able to visit them again sometime soon.

The last couple weeks have been pretty busy due to the arrival of many more American kids. Until the 20th of July we will have a group every day. We start out by feeding them a “typical Italian lunch” of pasta with a little taste of their cheeses and some bread. I put the “typical Italian lunch” in quotations just because it’s not very typical. Even here it’s a little Americanized. Though we do serve in stages and give them watermelon for dessert as well as a little crostata (a dense cake thing baked with jelly on top), there’s no protein and no freesh veggies. After lunch, I officially welcome them to the farm, telling them about the animals, how everything’s organic and that they are found in Morano Calabro in the region of Calabria and also in the Pollino National Park. Then we make cheese. It’s an extremely simplified version of what we actually do, which I find funny, but it’s still Pecorino! Every day Giuseppe has made me do more of it alone. I think he’s trying to phase himself so I can do everything on my own at some point. I’m getting closer, which gives me hope that I can make this cheese alone when I get home (I’ve made ricotta on my own a number of times now, officially!)

After we make some cheese, we gather all the kids outside where they get an official welcome to the city. This is said by Giuseppe’s brother Alberto, and I translate. Unfortunately, the welcome changes every day. Sometimes he’s a representative from the City of Morano, sometimes from Pollino National Park. Then he mixes up the wording. I honestly usually end up listening for the important words and making some stuff up I know they’d want me to say. After that, the kids receive a little thank you certificate and the teachers receive a little statue of Morano as a momento. Then we all load onto the bus and go to Il Castello Normanno-Sveva, where I talk about the history of the castle and Morano. After this, the schedule always changes. Sometimes we do a service project where we clean up an area of Morano that has a lot of garbage. Sometimes we go straight to get some gelato and skip the project. Sometimes we go to La Cheisa della Magdalena, the biggest (and an extremely beautiful) church in Morano. We usually finish about 6 or 7. The whole process takes about 5 or 6 hours, not including preparation.

The point of all this was not to bore you with the touristy bits of Morano, but rather to display an interesting side of the business. Apparently in Italy, most small farms like this have some kind of extra activity, whether that’s “didatica” with field trips for kids, or agritourism. This farm has been doing this for about 6 or 7 years.

I learned this from finally doing an interview with Giuseppe. Though I had more questions for him than my contact in the U.S., he talked for about a third of the time. I don’t know if he simplified for my sake or because he didn’t understand what I was saying, but either way I still got a load of information in 15 minutes. I’ll share a little without giving away the main points of my paper (which I’ve been thinking about a lot, and have officially outlined!) .

As I think I’ve said before, this family has been doing this kind of work for about 2000. At a certain point in time, the two sons, Giuseppe and Alberto, had to choose between going to school and finding some modern form of work or a way to make their way of life more modern. Since they had always liked this work and they couldn’t see their future without it, they decided to open the farm in the year 2000. Giuseppe already knew many techniques for making cheese that he had learned from his parents. However, he ended up taking classes in school as well to make them more modern. The types of cheeses they make now are the kinds that are known for the region and it’s what the people ask for. When I asked why they did things everything organically, he simply said it’s because they have the ideal conditions for it. They have natural pastures with native species of animals. His brother Alberto also helps with the cheese-making process in the early morning as well as various tasks on the farm. In addition, he runs the macelleria (butcher) in town where they sell the meat from their animals. Nothin goes to waste!

All in all, the conversation, though brief, was very interesting. The more time I spend here, the more tiny peeks I get into their lives and ideology. Ideally, I could just live here forever and become an integral part of the culture. In my opinion, 2 months isn’t nearly enough. However, with the 2 or so hours that I have to think when I’m cleaning cheese in the refrigerators, I have begun to make connections in my head and outline my paper. I’m pretty excited to get back and start really writing it. It’s starting to look like I’m going to have a lot less transcribing and translating than I thought I would, which is great.

Besides these little bits of my life, I’m going to start using my real camera to take pictures of the farm and of the family and of Morano. I will hopefully be posting at least once more before I leave in a couple weeks. My parents will arrive on the 28th and then we head out on our own little adventure around Italy on the 1st! I’m excited to get a little taste of some other areas outside of my little paese!


Lots of time to think cleaning cheese

I’m not quite sure how long it’s been since I last wrote. Time has been going by in a very peculiar way. I’m writing this on the 24th of June, my official halfway point here on the farm. It’s crazy that it’s been going by so quickly.

Up until yesterday, nothing much has been going on. I’ve been working every morning as usual and just hanging out. I explored Morano a bit with one of Nonna Maria’s grandsons which was fun, though quite exhausting. The farm is about a mile away from downtown and we walked there and then all the way up the mountain to the castle. Twice in one week. Needless to say, I was a little sore; but I took quite a few pictures.

Yesterday, the first group of traveling American kids came to the farm. Apparently the first group was supposed to be Tuesday, but I got a little practice run translating. I always knew translating was hard, but it’s even harder than I thought, especially because I’m not fluent in one of the languages. But other than that, it was a great experience and I’m excited for the rest of July. There will be about three groups a week starting this week on Tuesday until the end of July.

Yesterday it was a group of about 15 kids from Iowa with one tour guide, two teachers and one bus driver. Apparently they had been to Greece and yesterday was their first day in Italy. They were extremely excited to be in Italy and one boy in particular was yelling about how much he loved cheese.. When they got there, I greeted them with Nonna’s grandson (who speaks a little English, but doesn’t like to. He barely speaks with me). I showed them where the bathroom was and then told them a little about Morano and the Pollino National Park. I was nervous, so I think it was a little bumpy, but it’ll get better over the next month. Then we all went inside to make cheese.

That was where it got interesting. I know the general process now and I thought I knew what Giuseppe was going to talk about. For the most part I did, but he threw in a couple new things that I didn’t understand so I made some stuff up. Well, not made it up, but talked about something that was related but not necessarily what he said (at least I don’t think it was). Either way, the kids seemed interested in what I was talking about.

But I did learn something new, which was fun. When we make the ricotta everyday Giuseppe takes some branches and cuts the extra branches and leaves off of it. They always smell really good, so I figured it was for the flavor. What I found out yesterday is that they are branches from fig trees and the liquid that comes out of them is a form of rennet from vegetation. Rennet is the liquid or powder that is usually made from the stomach of baby sheep, cows and goats. It solidifies the milk into the curd. They have also discovered that there are some plants that have a similar affect and apparently the fig tree is one of them. So once they bring the whey up to a certain temperature that the ricotta starts to rise they stir it a little with the fig branches. The little bit of natural rennet is then put into the ricotta. I thought that was fascinating. Apparently it’s a technique that’s been passed down for generations.

Besides that, the field trip was fairly uneventful. It was funny because we fed them after the cheesemaking and the little tray had a taste of each of the cheeses as well as pasta and bread. We also gave them soda. Today at lunch Nonno and Nonna were talking about how no one ate their cheese and how the kids were really slow at eating, if they ate at all. We did end up feeding a lot of stuff to the animals.

The two teachers that were there with them were in awe of the farm and the area and it made me giggle a bit. One of them said that it still hasn’t sunk in that he was in Italy. He’d wanted to come here for a very long time and now he was and he couldn’t fathom it. I told him that I’d been here for a month and it still hasn’t sunk in. The other teacher said that she never wanted to leave.

This, I think, is the general reaction when Americans come to Italy and, indeed, many other foreign countries—disbelief and awe. I’m not quite sure what it is, but I have yet to go through this phase of culture shock of complete love for the place. I was talking to Ricardo about this and we think it’s just the person I am. I tend to believe that objectivity and the ability to both think critically about something or someone and find the beauty in it is why I am drawn to anthropology. I can’t go as far as to say that I think objectively, because that’s impossible. But I think I do like to think about where I am and the people I’m with and not get caught up in the romanticism of it.

Not that I don’t love Italy; because I do love Italy and the farm and my host family. Everything is incredible. However, I also love Boise, the other farm I worked on, where I grew up etc. I think I just don’t have that feeling of awe when I travel because I have that feeling all the time. So the first week or so I was here I was trying to figure out why I wasn’t totally in love with the place like everyone else told me I would be. Was something wrong with me? Am I just too homesick? I thought about it a lot and though I am still homesick, I think this feeling is not connected to it at all. Like I said, it’s just the way I am and what makes me love the field of anthropology.

So what does that mean in relation to the project? Not a whole lot, I guess. It just means that I’ve been able to really get to know the people and the place for what I can perceive as their real, everyday life rather than some romantic version. I wrote about this before a little bit, but I guess since I’ve been thinking about it so much I’ll expand a bit. As I said, they live a very simple life on the farm that’s somewhere between very traditional and modern. They have modern machinery, but they keep many of their traditions. However, it’s not like the consciously think “I’m saving the environment by hang-drying my clothes.” It’s just what they do. In the U.S. we have to consciously think about doing some of these kinds of things because, unless we have grown up simply, we’ve fallen into the typical American lifestyle. It’s a very intriguing notion. So this might be where I get the closest to romanticizing their life. Whenever they do something I think is eco-friendly or cool, I take note of it because I want to do it when I get home. Some of them I already do but I have to consciously think about them. I’m just as much a product of the U.S. culture as any other American.

Needless to say, the first half of my time here has made me think a lot and learn a lot about people and culture in general as much as about Italy.

On a side note, I’ve put up some more pictures! They were just taken with my phone again, but soon I’ll be carrying my camera around and taking some, so they’ll be better. I’ve also bought and filled out all 30 of my postcards. The only problem is that the post office is closed on Sundays and every day by 1. Of course, this is when I work. So I’m working on figuring out how to get them sent. Worse comes to worse, you will receive them once I’m back in the states and can send. It would be much cooler to send them from here though. I’ll do my best!

Morano, Pollino and Making Cheese

In other news, I’m attempting to learn about the Pollino National Park and the history of Morano. It’s been hard though because there is very little in English and only a little more in Italian which, of course, is a lot harder to read. But I have been able to learn a little, at least about Pollino.

Il Parco Nazionale di Pollino is the largest protected area in Italy and it was founded in 1993. Much of the land is still like it was thousands of years ago, according to the little pamphlet (in English) Giuseppe gave me. This means that the flora, fauna and even the people are maintaining many of the traditions that were started a long time ago. However, many of these things are at risk from outside influences (obviously, or it wouldn’t need to be protected) so they are taking some conservation efforts to save animals such as the native wolves and peregrine falcons. However, this next part that I find interesting. Pastoral living has been going on here for thousands of years. Giuseppe’s family has been here for 2000 years he tells me. Therefore, part of the goal of the national park is to increase organic agriculture, herding and agritourism to promote the traditions of this place. I still haven’t been able to find a whole lot of research about how the wilderness has changed in the last couple decades, but I’m going to continue working on it. It would be interesting to see whether or not there has been a significant effect of increased tourism and agriculture on the native flora and fauna.

Luckily for me, they recently opened the “Museo di Storia della Agricoltura e della Pastorizia” or “Museum of the History of Agriculture and Herding” here in Morano. I’m hoping to make a visit there here soon. There are nine sections all about the history of this place and how agriculture and herding have been a part of it. It sounds very interesting and also extremely useful to know. I’m not sure if it will go into anything about the native land or not, but some of the other stuff will be good to know.

Now, I’ve been getting a little more comfortable with attempting to ask questions about things, so I’m slowly learning more and more about the farm and how and why they do things. I have two weeks to learn a lot more before the American kids come and I have to teach them everything I know.

But what I have learned is pretty interesting. First, they make two main types of hard cheese; the caprino and the pecorino. The main difference is the type of milk that they use: the caprino is made from goat’s milk and the pecorino is made from sheep’s. There is also a cheese called the Grutazzo that they make, but I’m still not quite sure which on that is or how they make it. Today while we were cleaning the cheese in the refrigerators, I was asking Pina about the cheese. She said really the only difference between a lot of the cheeses in the fridge were the ages. Some were a lot fresher than others, some a lot more aged. It just depended on what the customers wanted to buy. At this time in the year, the goats and sheep are producing a lot of milk because it is spring time and a lot of them have just had babies. Starting in about July, it starts to slow down. Through the winter there is very little, if any, milk, so they make very little cheese (and focus on the salloumi it sounds like).

Besides some of the details about the cheese, I’ve been observing some of their habits and ideals. Simple and traditional living is obviously a very important part of how they do things. As (I think) I’ve said before, very little of anything is thrown away or wasted. Everything they do is to make sure that they use everything they can. This is seen in the way they make hard ricotta. In the U.S. I’d never heard of hard ricotta, but apparently you can make ricotta, put it in molds and let it age. Then you can grate it over pasta. They make it almost like the normal soft ricotta, except that it is cooked and stirred a little longer. In addition, leftover ricotta not sold in a few days is either put into molds or brought back from stores to be put into molds. That’s just one way they reuse things.

When observing these habits, it’s obvious to me that it’s just common sense to them. In the U.S., however, it would be something that is strived for as a reaction to the wasteful dominant culture. Though it’s just something they’ve been doing forever, they do recognize that culture in big-city Italy as well as around the world is different and many people do not live this way. Therefore, in many of their advertisements (on the website and in a brochure), they advertise their dedication to the “simple life.” It’s an interesting parallel to what I talked about in an earlier post about the difference between trying to find a food culture (in the U.S.) and maintaining tradition (here in Italy).


More Italian Food

First, I’d just like to note that if you haven’t seen them yet, I put some pictures up under the “Photos” tab, on the page entitled “Italy.” They were just taken with my phone, so they’re not the highest quality, but they actually turned out pretty good. I realized once I got here that the device I use to charge my rechargeable batteries for my real camera and my voice recorders does not have an energy converter, so I’m going to have to either conserver energy as much as possible or go buy some new batteries in town one day.
I’ve realized that this blog has pretty much become one that talks about Italian food. I didn’t mean for it to be that way, but I guess it’s expected. Food is a huge part of what they make, do and talk about. Plus, it’s what I love.
Before I left home, Ricardo’s mom told him that she was sure I was going to come back after two and a half months and love drinking coffee and red wine, both of which I don’t really like. I refused to believe it.
I have been especially adamant against drinking coffee. No matter how much I loved the smell, I always hated the taste. My first day in the caseificio, Pina asked if I wanted to have some coffee. I said no, as per usual. She looked at me a little weird, but didn’t press it. The next day, she poured me a little bit in a cup and said “Are you sure you don’t want to try it? Just a little, little bit?” So, feeling bad for refusing, I took the cup and drank. To my surprise, I liked it. Granted, she puts so much sugar in it, it barely has the taste of coffee, but still, I liked it. I didn’t even like the sweetest of coffee drinks when I was home. Since then (about two weeks ago) Pina has poured me a little more coffee each day. Yesterday she poured me just as much as everybody else and said “Hey! You like coffee now!” and I said “Yeah!” She smiled and said “Piano, piano,” or “Slowly, slowly.” They make their coffee (espresso) in these little metal pots that they put on the stove. There’s a small chamber that they fill with water on the bottom. The chamber for coffee is right above it and then the top chamber is screwed on. As the water boils, it avaporates and brings the coffee up to the top chamber where they then pour it into these tiny cups. When I told them that coffee where I’m from comes in cups the size of bowls, they were a little shocked. The cups are so tiny that they hold barely more than a couple sips. I was told the other day that I drink mine too slowly. The Italian people, I was then told, drink them so fast because they drink 7 or 8 a day. I haven’t gotten there yet, but “piano, piano.” My goal before I leave is to get myself one of the coffee makers and some little cups as well as a package of some good Italian coffee.
Much to my surprise, I have come to drink coffee more than red wine. Before I left, there were a couple red wines I could stand, so I figured it would be the first for me to like and the coffee would be next, if at all. I’m not going to lie; I’ve gotten quite tipsy at lunch a couple times already. This is for a combination of reasons. The first is that I rarely drink when I’m home, so my tolerance is fairly low. The second is because, despite my protests, Nonna Maria and Alberto like to pour me full cups that I feel bad wasting. That’s right, I said cups. They’re small ones, but it’s enough. The third is that by the time we get to lunch I don’t really have anything in my stomach.
It’s interesting because it tastes unlike any wine I’ve ever had, and I think it’s because they make it here at home. I haven’t actually asked them this yet, but I’ve found enough evidence now to be pretty confident in my conclusion. They recycle big bottles from other wines, sodas, water etc. and once they run out of wine in the cupboard, Nonno Alfredo takes a rack of the empty bottles up the pathway a little ways and comes back with full bottles of red wine. It’s fairly sweet (enough so that I can drink it), but it has this earthy taste to it. It’s sharp, almost like it’s carbonated, but I doubt that it is.It’s simple and made right here. I still haven’t been able to tell if it’s really strong in alcohol content or what, but there have been a couple times that I’ve had a hard time helping Nonna Maria sweep after lunch.
I have, however, officially discovered that they make a ton of salloumi’s here on the farm that they both sell in the caseificio with the cheese as well as eat every day at lunch. I like lunch meats when I’m home. But these are (as everything else I’ve tried here) are nothing like I’ve tasted. All the flavors are much more prevalent. Plus, there’s a ton more fat. I used to argue that I didn’t like bacon because of the fat, but I don’t think I can use that excuse any longer. Nonna Maria brought out some homemade pancetta today that I swear was at least 50 percent fat, if not more. It was delicious. Unfortunately, they make all the meats during the winter so there’s no way I’ll be able to learn how. Maybe, once I learn Italian more I can ask them to tell me at least. Even if I did it all correctly though I doubt it would be nearly as good as the stuff here.
So, enough about the food. There has been some other interesting things going on here. I’ve started to help one of the family friends learn English for an exam he is taking next week. It’s pretty funny because I haven’t had to think about grammar rules since I was a sophomore in high school and even then I don’t think I learned anything (I definitely don’t remember any of them). I know how to speak and write well enough, but attempting to explain things like the difference between “how much” and “how many” is really interesting. I’m pretty happy that I’ve grown up learning English because it is a really hard language to learn and it seems like everyone around the world has decided it’s the language to know. You know how “Dora the Explorerer” is used to teach kids Spanish in the U.S.? It’s used to teach English here.

Goat’s Head and New Things

Hello again everybody!

I can’t believe it’s been two weeks already (more, since I actually left the states) that I’ve been here on the farm. I think it’s probably been about a week since I wrote last and not a whole lot has happened, but I’ve steadily been learning a lot.

As is probably expected, I’ve been eating a lot of delicious food. The majority of it is fresh from either the local bakery or from the garden tended by nonno Alfredo. When I decided to do anthropological research in Italy, I was pretty excited because I was thinking as compared to other research done in the middle of the jungle or desert or something) at least there won’t be any crazy weird food that I’ll have to try to eat. Though the majority of the time this is true, I did have a couple experiences this last week where I had to put aside my own cultural conceptions of what’s okay to eat and just focus on chewing and swallowing. The first was at lunch a couple days ago. The day before, I had an interesting time at lunch because I was caught by surprise when nonna Maria set a pot on the table in front of nonno Alfredo and out of it he pulled a whole goat’s (or sheep’s) head and start pulling bits of meat out of it. I had to focus really hard on not looking at it, because its cloudy eyes were constantly looking at me. The next day I walked in the door at noon after getting off of work and saw the stove covered in pots. I helped set the table and nonna served me up some pasta and sauce from a bigger pot. I saw her pull some pieces of meat and bone and such out of the other pot sitting on the stove for nonno Alfredo and immediately I thought of the goat’s head and thought to myself “dear God, please don’t let that be the goat’s head.” My suspicions were heightened as I bit into some pasta and felt something hard between my teeth, only to find that it was a tiny tooth. I finished my pasta with a little bit of dread, knowing what was coming next. Nonna served me some of the meat, hanging on to random bones I know had been a skull and told me that I was to eat it with my hands, pulling the meat off with my fingers and teeth. Of course, they realized I was having issues with it and kept asking “ti piace?” or “do you like it?” I just nodded and said “si,si” all the while working past my mental block. Even after I got over the fact that it was the head of the animal on my plate, I had to get past the texture. Apparently, the heads of animals are very fatty and the meat is very slimy. I have this weird thing about the textures of foods; for this reason I don’t like things like scrambled eggs, bananas and slightly over-ripe apples.

My next surprise was a day or two later. As I said before (I think) there are three parts to the Italian lunch: the first (pasta and sometimes legumes); the second (protein, either meat or eggs); and the desert (which is fruit and sometimes a bread/cake). This particular day our second was eggs. When I walked in, I saw three partially-cooked sunny-side-up eggs sitting in a pan atop a bed of peppers, tomatoes and potatoes. I was pretty excited because this is sometimes a breakfast for me and I thought it was going to be yummy with their awesome bread. As we started lunch, I started to wonder when nonna was going to finish cooking them. At the last minute she covered them and let them simmer for a little bit. But not enough to cook them all the way through. So onto my plate fell a pretty-much-raw egg, the white oozing all over the plate. Of course, I was raised by the FDA ensuring that every egg is thouroughly cooked by their little warning lable. Even if the egg wasn’t cooked all the way through, the white certainly was. Only the yoke is allowed to be runny. So, again I had to attempt to get past my preconceptions of what is okay to eat and what is not. I know that their eggs are from their own little flock of chickens and they probably don’t have salmonella. Having my own flock, I’ve never really been worried about getting sick. It was, again, the texture. I was right, it was delicious with the bread, but I could get past the slimy transparent stuff sitting on my plate. So I just kind of pushed it aside and ate the veggies covered in yoke and the bread.

These experiences have taught me a couple things. The first is that I can never go to a place where they have strange food. No matter how much I want to explore new things and new foods, I don’t think I could do it. The more important thing though is just how much culture affects what we eat. For some reason, us people in the U.S. have really strange ideas of what’s okay to eat and what’s not. We only eat the “good” cuts of meat, yet we’ll eat things like chicken nuggets and hot dogs, where the meat is hardly recognizable (and hardly present). We can’t see that what we’re eating is from a real animal. Even though I know meat comes from a living thing, I can’t help but feel horrible when actually presented with that fact on my plate. It’s just something I was raised to think, as are a lot of Americans. Here, it’s just a known fact that you don’t waste any food, so obviously you eat every part of the animal that is available.

Why they don’t cook eggs all the way, I’m not really sure. It’s something I’ll have to look into.

Besides my food adventures, I’ve been learning more and more about how the farm is run and what I’ve been finding is quite interesting. Though the farm itself in its current state has only existed for 10 years (started by Giuseppe and his brother Alberto) the family has been living in the area, herding sheep and making cheese for about 2000 years, the secrets of the trade being passed down from father to son. Everything is done organically without pesticides. Hay is grown in a small field on their land, but the majority of the time the sheep are raised in the pastures of the surrounding mountains. The farm resides in Pollino National Park, which is the largest national park in Italy and named for its highest peak that I can see from the front door. I’m still trying to research what exactly it means to be a national park. It is home to many protected species I know, but it is obviously okay for people to raise livestock on the land. Once I figure that out, I will be posting. It’s something that really fascinates me. I wrote earlier that ricotta is sold to stores locally, made fresh almost every day, but at that point I wasn’t sure about the rest of the cheeses. Giuseppe told me that they do in fact sell all their cheeses in Calabria, and many of them in stores within the province of Cosenza.

There’s one main difference I have been noticing between the farm in the U.S. and the farm here. At the farm in the U.S. everything is about taking European traditional cheeses and adapting them to the American palate while maintaining the artisanal qualities. This can be seen in the way the buildings themselves at the farm are built in an Italian style and the fact that they use an old wooden European vat to make their hard cheese. The owner is even attempting to build a straw and clay cave to make aged cheeses in, a very traditional technique. It’s all about finding a better food culture amidst what is deemed crappy about the fast food culture. Here on the other hand, is almost the opposite. Though they are trying to maintain traditional methods as well, they are doing so in an attempt to maintain their traditional culture that has been that way for thousands of years. The inside of the caseificio (cheese-making building) looks much more industrial than a romantic American would think. Everything is sparkling clean and stainless steel. All the molds are plastic. The cheese is aged in large refrigerators with temperature and humidity controlled. Though it’s all very modernized in technology, the techniques are ancient and what they believe are the important qualities of cheese-making are being saved, if not improved. This way they are able to make their cheese safer and faster (with a modern vacuum milking system as well). The difference may not seem that different, but for me it’s fascinating. I am interested in finding out whether or not Giuseppe plans on teaching his son about the business or if he’s worried. The majority of the young people I’ve met have been going to universities at least an hour away, but I’m not sure if there’s a trend of people leaving the country here in Calabria. It’s something I have to find out and am very interesting in.

So that’s what I’ve been learning so far. In about 3 weeks some American kids with a program called People to People will be coming to learn about the farm and, of course, I’m going to be the tour guide/translator. This means that I have to learn all the “important” stuff about the farm, about Pollino, about Morano and how to make cheese, as I will be guiding them through making some hard cheese as well as ricotta. To prepare me for this, Giuseppe already walked me through the day and let me borrow a book entitled “il formaggio, raccontato ai bambini” or “Cheese, Recounted for Children.” It’s all in Italian, so I spent the better part of this morning reading it. It’s all about how to make cheese and, I would say, way too difficult for children. It not only goes through the whole process but it explains what milk is made of and how rennet and cultures work with lots of science concepts that in English I barely comprehend. But it’s been very interesting and a very good way for me to learn all the important cheese words in Italian.

Tomorrow I’m going into Morano with Giuseppe to get a book (written in English, yay!) about the history of Morano. At least, that’s how I understood it. I’m very excited to learn about the city and the people that have inhabited it for who knows how long. I still haven’t been able to completely comprehend the age of this place. It’s weird enough to be in a building in the U.S. that’s been around for 200 years. But here, everything is much older. It’s crazy to think about.

Anyway. That’s all for now! I took some pictures just with my phone of the place that I’m uploading. Hopefully I’ll be taking some real ones soon. I’m mostly waiting until July to do the majority of the hard core research so that I understand more of what’s going on and I can ask better.

So that’s that! I’ll be back soon with more to talk about, I’m sure.

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.

Culture Shock and Making Formaggio

Ciao a tutti!

Finally I’m able to get online to do a post! It’s been a crazy first week, let me tell you. This is gonna be a long post so I don’t blame you if you don’t want to read it all.

It was quite an adventure making the trek from Boise to Morano, but 27 hours later (by plane, train, bus and car) I made it. The area is absolutely gorgeous and the town beautiful, as are the people.

Of course, no amount of study in my anthropology classes could prepare me for the actual feeling of culture shock. It hit me especially hard since I’d never been out of the country before (Canada and a cruise hardly count) and because the language barrier is harder to get past than I thought. By the time I left Boise, I could understand my teacher speak even when she was talking full speed, but here the accent is very thick. They drop a lot of the vowels and leave out a lot of words, so it’s been hard to get accustomed to.

Plus, no matter how much you study different cultures and read about them, attempting to become a part of a family of a completely different culture is a lot harder than I was prepared for. There are two big things that I have had to try to get accustomed to: first, the way they clean; and second, the way they eat. After lunch every afternoon, everything is cleaned: the floor is swept (sometimes mopped), the dishes washed, and the stove cleaned. Any food not eaten is saved, composted, or fed to the cats. Everything gets eaten in some way or another. Eating is a whole other thing. Now, I’m used to my Italian-American family eating all the time, but what I wasn’t prepared for was how much my Italian nonna would want to feed me. If there’s one word I will leave the country knowing it’s “Mangia! Mangia!” or “Eat!” Breakfast is a cup of tea and some biscotti. While we work, we eat more (biscotti, cake, little chocolate filled pastries etc). Lunch is the big meal, with three courses. There’s the primo (pasta or soup) the secondo with contorni (the main course with vegetables, bread, cheese, salami etc) and then dolce (fruit). I am constantly told to take more and more food and told “non mangi niente” or “”you don’t eat anything!” I’m lucky that the food is not only delicious, but a lot more healthy than a lot of what I eat when I’m home.

As for the work, it’s been quite interesting so far. Monday through Friday we make fresh ricotta that is sold in stores in the nearby towns or Morano and Castrovillari (and another I can’t remember the name of). Then we clean. And clean. They clean everything. All the equipment, the floors, the walls and the cheese. Since they make mainly hard cheeses, the cheese age in refrigerators where the temperature and the humidity are controlled. Then they grow mold. A lot of my day is spent in the fridges cleaning the mold of the cheese and flipping them so that they age correctly and the rind forms right. The finished product is really beautiful.

Anyway. I think that’s all I have time for right about now, but I’ll post again soon! Access to internet is a little difficult at the moment, but once I get into the swing of things, it’ll get better.


Vado in Calabria Martedi Prossimo

That’s right. I leave next Tuesday (that’s 3 days…ah!) for Italia.

I realized the other day that I have little background knowledge of the farm and the region I am going to, nor have I shared much with all of you. So, here’s a little of what I have found out so far. I plan on trying to learn a lot more from the people of the farm. A personal account is much better than what I could find on the internet, but I wanted to go in with  little information.

Calabria is the southern-most region in Italy and one of the more rural and poor areas. It didn’t become a part of the country of Italy until 1860 and before that it was conquered and passed around by many different groups, including the Greeks, Romans and Byzantines. What this has meant for the region is that it had a late start growing its economy. However, it has started to pick up mainly due to their agriculture (it’s a leading producer in olive oil), though tourism is picking up as well.

I will be near the town of Morano Calabro. I haven’t been able to find much about the history of the town, but it’s gorgeous and on a mountain. The population is only 4,800 people, so I may be somewhat of an oddity. I’ve also read that many people still speak the native dialect or Moranese and little Italian, so it will certainly be interesting!

Though I can’t tell the name of the farm because of Institutional Review Board rules, I can tell you a little about it from what I’ve found out from their website. The family that owns the farm has been farming there for generations and the region has been home to herders for many years as well. The farm has 600 animals (500 sheep, 100 goats) that are native species. They are based in the Pollino National Forest where the animals forage for their food of native shrubs and grasses. Because the grandparents still live on the farm, many of the traditions have been carried through to now. They have a couple specialty cheeses that are featured on the website. Pecorino di Morano, La Feliciata, and Il Gruttazzo. Each is handmade at the factory and with the traditional instruments, as well as some modern equipment.

As you can probably tell, there’s still a lot of things I don’t know about where I’m going. It will certainly be an adventure. Of course, once I settle in and learn a little more, I’ll be keeping you all posted. From what I’ve read on the website the ideology itself behind the making of cheese is very similar to the farm in the United States, but the environment in which they are working is very different. We’ll see!

P.S. All these pictures I have are just from Google Images. Soon I’ll have my own to put up.