Sheep’s milk cheese from the rolling hills of Romagna, found at Bianca e Mora
On a high hill green with olive groves, in the half-lit cellars of a historic villa, within terracotta jars filled with olive branches, sits a cheese. It’s name is l’ulivo—and its taste is as pure a distillation of the Emilia Romagna region of Italy as any you are likely to find.
It starts with the milk, collected from shepherds who have kept sheep on Romagna’s rolling hills for generations. The sheep graze on the local herbs and grasses: that fresh ricotta, the sweetly flavourful by-product of pecorino, is a breakfast staple around there is really no surprise. The young pecorino meanwhile, is transferred to terracotta amphoras of indeterminate age and covered with cuttings from the countless olive trees.
It’s left there for six months. In that time the warm, verdant aromas of the olive leaves and branches seep softly into the ripening cheese. “The air doesn’t come inside. It is like a natural vacuum,” says Jack at Bianca e Mora. The producer, L’Antica Cascina, has a number of cheeses at the stall, each one drawing upon both ancient traditions and the know-how of the new.
Gnarling olive groves
Their villa, a splendid seigniorial residence nestled among the gnarling olive groves, dates back to the 18th century; the making of pecorino dates back to ancient Rome. The L’ulivo, waiting quietly inside its clay chrysalis, is drawn from history, but its unique flavour and seemingly endless versatility (“you can cook it in pies, serve it on top of soups, risotto, pasta—with fettuccini ai funghi it is excellent,” Jack enthuses) means it’s had no issues with keeping relevant: on the contrary, it won an industry award only last year.
There is only one way to have it, however, if you’re Italian: “As a starter, with balsamic vinegar or honey, and a glass of prosecco.” Always prosecco? “Yes. It is the wine of the region. It carries that essence,” says Jack. We’re no vinophiles—cheese is our field—but we can well imagine the peppery, zesty bite of this cheese, at once crystalline and creamy, saline and herbaceous marrying together with the inimitably Italian taste of prosecco.