Those who love to venture into the woods and the Mediterranean scrub of the Gargano hills have probably been lucky enough to have a special encounter, the one with a herd of Podolian cows grazing.
Their solemn appearance, with large horns, gray coats and slow but majestic gait, inspires a feeling of respect and admiration. We are facing the noble descendant of the Uro or Bos Primigenius, the first domesticated and reared bovine in Europe. The Gargano, thanks to the particular conformation of the territory, harsh and apparently hostile, and the presence of aromatic plants, guarantees pastures almost all year round, an essential condition for the breeding of podolas in the wild.
It is not easy to raise podolic cows also because they do not produce a lot of milk even if it is a milk with unique organoleptic properties that we find in one of the symbolic products of the Gargano area, the podolic caciocavallo. This breed, once dominant in Italy, has found its ideal habitat in this corner of Puglia where this cheese with a typical "pear" shape is produced only in certain periods of the year.
To produce podolico caciocavallo, the curdled milk is "broken" into very small grains, the size of a grain of rice; the pasta is then matured in a tub with the whey and then placed on an inclined wooden table so that all the liquid drips.
This is followed by slicing and "spinning" with boiling water to shape it and give it the typical shape, that of a small pot-bellied flask with a small head. This is a very delicate operation, reserved for the best cheesemakers, which ends with the immersion of the caciocavallo in cold water and then in brine. The cheese can be aged for a minimum of three months up to three years and, in some cases, even up to eight or ten years!
A caciocavallo can weigh from 1.5 to 2.5 kg, its paste is compact and white in color tending to straw yellow, with an aromatic smell and a fragrant and sweet flavor, if slightly seasoned. By increasing the seasoning, the taste becomes more intense and slightly spicy. The rind is smooth, white in color tending to straw yellow while in the more seasoned product it takes on a more intense, ocher yellow color.
Fresh caciocavallo is eaten in spring, while the more seasoned is eaten in summer, often in the delicious and typical preparation of "hanged" caciocavallo, that is, cooked on the grill and spread on slices of fragrant toasted bread. A real taste experience that must be done at least once in a lifetime! It is not a cheese produced on a large scale, because the farms are limited and usually it is the farmers themselves who produce the cheese for family use or to sell it in neighboring areas. It is, in fact, a limited production, artisanal and of the highest quality that it is often possible to taste during summer festivals, one above all the Rignano Garganico festival, where in August it is possible to taste not only caciocavallo but also meat. podolica and other typical products of the area.
If you are on holiday in the Gargano, remember to leave some room in your suitcase, because if you taste the Podolico caciocavallo you cannot help but take one away with you.