Volterra’s Lischeto Agriturismo (Farm Hotel) Review – Zen and the Art of Pecorino Cheese

You'll be greeted by Lischeto's sheep as you drive up to the farm, unless they happen to be being milked at the time

 

 

It started with a poem and it became Giovanni Cannas’ obsession for more than fifteen years. ..

 

 

It wasn’t just any poem, but a poem about cheese written in 1726 by a noble abbot, Mario Guarnacci, the namesake of Volterra’s historic Etruscan museum.  The poem talked about something Giovanni had never heard of—a rennet that came from a plant, not an animal. 

 

 

In talking this poem up with several elders in the area Giovanni learned that the plant was a wild artichoke flower.  Learning how to take the July and August blooms and let them rest for half a year was part of the journey that ended for Giovanni in the holy grail of cheesemakers, the coveted D.O.P. status. 

 

 

D.O.P. (Denominazione di Origine Protetta) status on Fattoria Lischeto’s “Le Balze Volterrane” pecorino cheese will allow them to export it widely.  This is an EU-protected quality standard.  For a small producer, it is akin to winning a gold medal at the Olympics.

 

 

Commercial benefits aside, talk to Giovanni for just a short time and you realize that this quality designation means much more.  The son of one of the many Sardinian farmers who moved to the Volterra area in the 1950’s, Giovanni has been immersed in cheese his entire life. 

 

 

His parents didn’t come alone to Volterra.  They brought their sheep too—an interesting thin-nosed breed that stands out in the Volterra countryside.  When he was eight years old his grandmother told him that he would always make good cheese because he has warm hands. 

 

 

Those warm hands in earlier non-mechanized cheese making days were a valuable asset in helping to get the whey away from the curds. 

 

 

Except for a brief moment of rebellion that in hindsight Giovanni says was actually the passing of the baton from his father’s generation to his own, autodidact Giovanni has happily devoted himself to building Fattoria Lischeto – an agritourism farm, cheese making “caseificio”, and related projects. 

 

 

Giovanni says, “I was born with a passion for art and a love of good things made from good things.  It’s instinctive—you can’t go to school to learn it….I also love the land where I am from and I respect this land.”

 

 

 

Truth to tell, if you visit Lischeto Farm you may be so taken with the scenery and sculpture that art-loving Giovanni has displayed about the farm that you overlook the sheep raising, olive oil production, and cheese making around you. 

 

 

 

 

This would be a major mistake however, especially if you prefer to put organic food on your table.  This is a chance to see an organic agricultural farm up close and personal. 

 

 

From tiptoeing around gentle newborn lambs, to watching the sheep march in for milking as though following strict rules of choreography, to visiting the caseificio (cheese factory) and seeing the step-by-step of sheep’s milk turning into cheese, you walk away with a profound sense of the goodness in the food you’ll be eating at the farm’s restaurant table. 

 

 

 

 

 

Tip #1:  Try to meet the farm’s donkey mascot, Orazio.

 

 

Tip #2:  If you are from Washington D.C. or visiting the city, eat at the organic restaurant that the Obamas have patronized, Nora Restaurant where Lischeto Farm pecorino cheese is on the menu.

 

 

Tip #3:  If you want to taste one of the dozen or so cheeses from Lischeto Farm before you travel to Tuscany, try their US distributor, Pondini at 732 545 1255.

 

 

Tip #4:  If you are traveling to Tuscany put Lischeto Farm on your itinerary and correspond ahead of time with Jennifer Johnson (Jenny, half Italian and half British, totally bilingual and overflowing with congeniality) to arrange the farm activities that you’d like to experience ahead of time.

 

 

Call (+39) 0588 30403.

 

Or, visit the Lischeto Agriturismo website.

Lischeto Farm

Strada Prov. Le del Monte Volterrano

56048 Volterra (Pisa)

Italy

 

 

Photos:  Peter Kachergis, unless otherwise indicated

 

 

 

 

 

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