I’ve known Immacolata since I was a young girl and remember vividly her coming down to the village early the day after the cheese was made to tell us how it all went. She'd bring fresh ricotta, still warm for our breakfast that we would eat with honey and walnuts on top. I also remember very clearly the trips to the mountain after 4-5 months to check and choose the cheese. For me at the time that would have meant to go in this very smelly cheese room and spend at least an hour there, and I was trapped as I couldn’t wait outside as I was too scared of her sheep dogs. To be honest I don’t know if I was more frightened by them or by Immacolata.
My mum and dad would touch and try all the cheeses and choose the ‘ones’, complimenting Immacolata, who looked always incredibly confident and proud. She would offer me cheese and I was never allowed to say no, as it’d be too rude. I would gulp down some pieces so quickly trying not to taste them and most of them would end up in my pockets. The trousers would have stunk so much even after being washed. That’s what I remember more clearly, the distinctive smell, unpleasant for me at the time, so wonderful for my parents. And that smell that I couldn’t stand when little I now love and immediately connect with my childhood, with my homeland.
Immacolata would always take us to see the sheep and that I loved! How lucky I was to be exposed to such ancestral traditions, such earthy and wholesome people, and such real experiences. Going back to the cheese purchase, we would always go back home with the boot full of pecorino. My dad was born and raised in the principal city Benevento, so his parents and all his family lived there. This cheese was, and still is very desirable in the City as it's not so easily available so we would always get some for my grandparents, for my numerous uncles and aunties, my dad’s cousins, his old maths professor, his barber, his boss and so on. We’d buy20/30 kilos at a time. What an annoyance for me at the time, what an incredible thing now.
And being able to now bring it here, all the way to the UK straight from that very ‘smelly room’, from Immacolata and her daughter’s hands, her husband and sons who shepherd the sheep year round, straight from the mountain. I feel proud, and lucky, and grateful to these people who continue to keep producing these amazing cheeses, and meats, oils and wines. Whenever I go back she always asks me ‘What do the English folks think?’. I tell her how many people know about her now, they see the pictures and love the cheese. She giggles and seems very honoured. So if you haven’t tried it yet, do come to the shop and get some!