I had called ahead and the owners of the farm were expecting me…the mozzarella experience was about to begin, but first I had to get there…
I had chosen a farm some distance off my walking path, so I have to admit that I didn’t walk all the way from Fondi to Paestum (the 235kms were a little too much to cover in one day and mozzarella impatience had set in!). However I did have an eventful and fun journey nonetheless…
My path to Fattoria del Casaro took me past the ancient city of Minturno, which belonged to the Ausones, an Italic tribe settled in the south of Italy and Sicily before the expansion of Rome. In 314 BC they made war against Rome and after their defeat the city became a Roman colony in 296 BC.
The old via Appia passes directly through the ruins of the Roman city, which are still being excavated by archaeologists on site. I arrived in time to see the sun setting behind the old Roman aqueduct, which is outside the city, split in two by the new via Appia. I was told that it is one of the oldest Roman aqueducts in Italy, but i’ve heard those sorts of claims often!
I had to wait until the morning to visit the Roman ruins but it was worth it. I was taken inside the amphitheatre which is now the site museum, containing old inscriptions and marble busts and heads (the sort of stuff which is usually found in a museum displaying Roman remains, and excites my geeky side!)
The sun was shining as I wandered amongst the ruins: an old theatre (now reconstructed and used for modern theatre productions), the forums, temples and market, intersected by the ancient Appia Antica, the Roman road running from Rome to Brindisi. It was named after Appius Claudius Caecus, the Roman censor who began and completed the first section as a military road to the south in 312 BC.
The archaeologists were at work, and as I was the only visitor, I was given a short tour and explanation of what they have found. They have recently excavated the latrines and found a series of inscriptions in Ancient Latin, not dissimilar to those found on the walls of some modern toilet cubicles. They are descriptions of where to “have a good time” and with whom. The only thing that was missing, and different from modern times was a telephone number!
I spent the rest of the day trying to hitchhike the relatively short distance to Paestum with varying degrees of success. At 9pm I found myself in Capaccio, a few kilometres away from my destination, and stopped at a bar for refreshment. My trip over the last 3 months has been characterised by incredible encounters with many fantastic people, and this was no different. The bar I chose, annunziato Snack, is owned by Ettore and his wife Anna Maria, two of the friendliest people I have met. They run a sandwich delivery company and this was their takeaway outlet. They gave me a cup of tea, and when they discovered I was heading to Paestum to make mozzarella, Ettore offered me a lift. Eventually, around 10pm, I arrived at my destination, expecting to set up my tent and sleep. Instead I was greeted by a christmas party!
Aldo, the son and heir of the azienda, had been expecting me and I was warmly greeted by him and his friends. I entered a large, christmas decorated room with a blazing open log fire and a long banquet table. Around the room the walls were hung with old pictures, framing the history of mozzarella making in the family since 1890. They sat me down and placed huge balls of mozzarella in front of me, and as I sat there staring at the cheese, I felt 15 pairs of eyes staring at me – they knew I was there to learn about mozzarella and this was the first taste. It was unlike anything I had tried. I was expecting the distinctive buffalo mozzarella taste but this was fresh, rich and creamy but light…and of course delicious! Various other assortments of food continued to grace the table and I am sure that there must have been a self filling glass of wine in front of me! I was somewhat blown away, and felt like i needed to give myself a slap to wake up. I didn’t. Instead I chose to keep on drinking, chatting and generally wondering how I had ended up in this situation, when 2 hours before I had no idea what I would find when I arrived, or indeed if I would actually reach the farm that night!
Eventually the night drew to a close, and I set up my tent amongst the olive trees. As I drifted off to sleep I heard the sound of arriving cars – it was 3.30am and the workers were arriving to start making cheese for the morning!
When I woke the sun was shining and the buffalo were happily enjoying breakfast.
The first thing that greeted me as I opened the door to the shop was an incredible cheese counter: beautiful fresh mozzarella, and numerous other cheeses, surrounded by rows of hanging caciocavallo.
Maria, the padrona and general of the farm, was behind the counter. She welcomed me with breakfast: a huge slice of delicious pear and ricotta tart, freshly baked that morning.
After warming myself by the fire, and chatting with Maria’s mother, Nonna Sofia, I made my way into the cheese factory and the adventure really began…
TO BE CONTINUED…