Gran Sasso in Abruzzo is, at 2912ms, the highest of the Apennines, the mountain range that runs the entire length of the Italian peninsula. In summer its lower slopes are grazed by large flocks of sheep from all over central Italy brought by shepherds who continue the tradition of the transhumance. But this number is decreasing and Slow Food has created a presidium for the unpasteurised pecorino cheese still made on these high pastures of Gran Sasso. There are only 2 producers of Canestrato di Castel del Monte and last week we visited one of them to meet Manuela Tripodi who, together with her uncle Giulio Petronio, runs the Azienda Zootecnica Gran Sasso di Castel del Monte.
They have 1400 sheep most of which, when we arrived, had recently been taken down to lower pastures closer to Pescara after the first snow fall in mid October. Mobile milking machines ensure fresh milk can be brought back to the farm every day until the spring when the sheep return to Castel Del Monte (1300ms). In July and August they move again and head up onto Campo Imperatore, a unique high mountain plain, 17 miles long and 5 miles wide where they are protected from wolves by the huge Maremmano Abruzzese sheep dogs. The pasture here is the most biodiverse of any in Europe making fabulous pecorino, caciotta and ricotta cheeses.
The name Canestrato comes from the canestra or wicker basket that was used to drain the curds and it can be aged anywhere from 2 – 18 months. It is eaten as a table cheese or grated onto pasta or lenticchie di Santo Stefano di Sessanio, the tiny, nutty lentils that have been grown on the Campo Imperatore for over a thousand years. From the end of November Spa Terminus will stock their fresh Primo Sale pecorino, a 3 month and a 6 month. Come along for a taste