Pecorino di Filiano has long been prized in the Basilicata region, deep in the sole of the boot of Italy, but it has recently gained international recognition through the awarding of a new DOP or Denominazione di Origine Protetta. This means that there are strict rules governing how the cheese is made and matured, and how the milk for the cheese is produced.
Giovanni Samela is the owner and cheese-maker of the Pietra del Sale Dairy, and his family has been making cheese for generations.
Milk is collected from flocks of sheep that graze the local Lucana mountain pastures, and the dairy itself is situated at 950 metres above sea level, but the hardy sheep will graze at even higher levels.
The region is one of forests and mountains, and the healthy mountain air and volcanic rock create varied and abundant pastures that include ryegrass, wild oats, thyme and wild fennel. These pastures, combined with the mineral-rich water from the volcanic slopes of Monte Vulture, make for excellent milk.
The milk is set with only lambs’ or kids’ rennet, and, once ready, the curds are cut by energetically breaking them up with a long wooden instrument with a rounded top, until they are the size of grains of rice. The curds are put into moulds lined with rushes, and, once drained and salted, they are placed in natural tuff caves. After 20 days, the rinds are rubbed with extra virgin olive oil and wine vinegar, to help form the rind that will protect the cheese for a minimum of 160 days’ maturing.
The resulting cheese is full-flavoured and robust, with a crystalline texture and a sweet, tropical-fruit finish, with mineral accents.