High in the mountains of Salemi, Siciy I'm at the Azienda Cucchiara, bursting with excitement in a group of breezy middle-aged men.They stand in small circles, comparing notes on Serie A or, in a particularly loud moment, the state of Italian politics. Now and again, they turn to look at a young man in knee-high rubber boots patiently stirring a simmering creamy liquid in a giant pot. His nonno, sporting a blue baseball cap that says in Italian "I am a shepherd and I am Sicilian" is supervising from a nearby chair. Clearly what's coming will be worth the wait. Me and the men, we're here because we share a mutual purpose. We're here for the ricotta.
In a ritual as old as cheese-making, the whey left over from the production of the caseificio's Pecorino Siciliano DOP (that happened sometime earlier this morning) is being transformed into fresh ricotta.The curds are just rising to the top of a giant stainless steel cauldron.The casari, armed with immense, flat ladles, are ready to scoop just a scant inch from the top for the gathered crowd. The first ricotta: sweet, warm, rich, and better than anything you've ever tasted. Once the bowls are empty, the men hasten to bring the still warm curds home. The cheese will be spread atop bread with homemade marmellata, or nestled in a bowl under some fresh fruit. Or, like those men here who just couldn't wait, it will simply be eaten from earthenware bowls, a sheep farmer's version of a reward for a job truly well done.