I make no secret of my love of cheese. I eat a lot of cheese in Rome.
However, I have never MADE cheese, and certainly have never made Roman cheese.
There was literally no way I was ever going to turn down an invitation to see shepherd Fabrizio in action at La Sonnina.
La Sonnina is a farm outside of Genazzano in Lazio – the province where Rome is located.
About a 40 minute drive outside the city, the cooperative is home to around 200 sheep.
That made it the perfect place to stop in for an afternoon of sheep’s milk cheese making.
First, Fabrizio lit the flame under a large metal canister filled with enough sheep milk to make 5 kg (about 10 pounds of cheese).
The milk is heated and slowly stirred until it reaches about 32C. (Fabrizio is such a pro that he uses his hand to test the temperature).
When the time is just right, he adds the rennet.
Most rennet used in Italy is produced in a lab, but Pecorino di Genazzano has an exemption that allows real sheeps rennet to be used. The additive is necessary when making a hard cheese like pecorino.
FYI- pecorino is called cacio in local dialect, and is the essential ingredient in cacio e pepe.
In order to ensure that everything is properly mixed, the milk is stirred with a spino – a branch from a thorn bush.
The shape of the spino helps to cut the cagliata– when cheese stops being creamy and comes together a bit more.
These curds will be removed and pressed into molds to make pecorino.
But the leftover whey is never wasted.
Instead, it is reheated and used to make ricotta.
In fact, that is exactly what ricotta means – re-cooked.
Naturally, after the delicious demonstration, we stuck around for a meal at the farmhouse.
With a mission that goes way behind preserving local food customs, and the farmhouse has a focus on social support. In addition to educational days for children, La Sonnina is hoping to transition to providing housing for a group of orphans.
For now, accommodation at the farm is still available in the seven room farmhouse if you would like to stay overnight. At the very least, support the cause by calling ahead to book a meal with them on Fridays for dinner, on Saturdays for lunch and dinner, and on Sundays and public holidays for lunch. The food is simple, with an emphasis on local and organic ingredients.
The only reason that I was lucky enough to discover it was thanks to Italy Where Else, which organizes these unique experiences and outings in the Rome countryside. They are wonderful and know so many hidden gems, so if you would like a 5% discount, you can use the code “Rome17” when booking.
Fattoria La Sonnina
Via Colle Mufiano, 19,
00030 Genazzano (Lazio)
+39 06 95570012