Many trips to Italy simply begin and end in Rome. Knowing that this would leave me wanting more, I let Rome be my appetizer and ventured into the Italian countryside for the remaining courses. This is the story of my journey to find the perfect cheese plate.
Encrusted within the craggy folds of the Gran Sasso Mountains lie the Middle Age stone villages and castles of the province of L’Aquila. Thousands of sheep thrive here on the rich land and beautiful weather, creating the ideal conditions for outstanding cheese. The area is not a big tourist destination and is difficult to get around without a car, but that’s all the more reason to go - its untarnished culture and deep rooted traditions haven’t lost their footing to popular tourism. I was lucky enough to borrow a car to take me through the landscape.
My little car wandered through the mountains on the quiet, narrow roads for hours, stopping in every stone settlement I saw to collect cheese along the way. I followed a handmade sign on the road pointing to "Pecorino Ricotta," visited a sheepherder and cheese maker to watch him at work, and quite by chance, stumbled upon a ‘cave’ where a family made and aged their own cheese.
Along my journey, I consumed around 3 pounds of the most exquisite, unpasteurized, handmade cheeses - many laced with herbs, fruit, wine, or ash. In retrospect, I really can’t think of a better way to construct what was an unparalled cheese plate.