Stepping inside the cheese-making room at Masseria Lamapecora was like plunging into a sweet aroma bath. On a recent trip we spent a couple of hours at this traditional working farm in Puglia, Italy. It’s a place where craftspeople make the finest Italian cheese, and olive oil is pressed from the fruit of 2000 ancient trees. Our visit, organised by our hosts Raro Villas and Bookings for You, gave us a glimpse of the slow, steady pace of life in Puglia. Where long, bright days and the labour of people who love their land brings about the most delicate flavours, and lingering scents.
The part of Puglia where we stayed, in Corte dei Messapi near Ostuni, features over 100 masseria. These are large, often manorial farms, and some of them date back to the 1600s. Masseria Lamapecora was built in the nineteenth century, and our tour of its buildings began with a walk through some of the ancient farm buildings, with their original machinery.
Lamapecora is a working dairy farm, whose cows’ and sheep’s milk is made into 120kg of cheese a day. Traditional methods are used wherever possible, and the sheep are milked by hand. We didn’t see the milking, but we did meet some residents of the farm: a pig, some pretty calves with the longest eyelashes, and a calm, dignified donkey.
And then, it was time to watch the cheese-making. We moved from the dry, dusty hay-scent of outdoors to a space that was damp with the sweet, piquant smell of curds. In the clatter and bustle, a smiling woman handed us hats and aprons, to make sure the Italian cheese was kept ultra-clean. I knew my daughter and I were in for a rare treat.
Artisan cheesemakers work at Masseria Lamapecora from 6am until 2pm. A day of very physical labour, judging by all the lifting, pouring and kneading that Omer did when he showed us how to make mozzarella, from salting the curds through to knotting the buoyant cheese into balls.
Burrata is one of Masseria Lamapecora’s main products. It’s an Italian cheese typical of Puglia: mozzarella, but tied into a ball, with a melt-in-the-mouth centre of stracciatella and cream. Omer clearly loved his work, gracefully melding the cheese like a piece of dough, and tieing up the knotted burrata with a small flourish and a satisfied grin. After Omer had finished demonstrating his art, we moved on to the best bit. We tasted some of the freshly made burrata.
It was cool, creamy and soft, with just a tiny bit of that tender springiness you get with the freshest mozzarella. A remarkable cheese, which beats almost all others I’ve tried since.
Masseria Lamapecora produces several other types of cheese, like ricotta, which is made from the whey left over from mozzarella. It’s traditionally eaten on bread for breakfast, so to fuel ourselves the next day we bought some from the farm’s cheese counter, along with pecorino. This salty, rich sheep’s cheese changes as it ages, with the young cheese – 25 days old – being less strong and granular than the aged version, which is kept for at least a year. I chose some of the aged version, and it made a delicious accompaniment to the crisp, dry white wine we drank later that evening.
Our trip to Masseria Lamapecora was an education for our girls, who live in the city. My daughter was captivated by Omer’s demonstration, and asked lots of questions later, about cheese and where it comes from. At six I’d say she was just about at the youngest end of the scale of children who’d find it interesting. For youngsers, the demonstration was quite long (mozzarella can’t be hurried), so there was a lot of standing still. But for slightly older children, and for me, it was a fascinating insight into a traditional method of production.
And boy, did that cheese taste good.
Masseria Lamapecora offers tours of its farm, olive groves and cheese-making rooms. It’s set in deepest Puglian countryside, and is somewhere you need to drive to. It’s roughly half-way between the airport towns of Bari and Brindisi, with the nearest small town being Monopoli. You can find out more on their website.
Where to stay, and what else to do in the region
I posted about our villa accommodation at Corte dei Messapi here. This post has suggestions for the best things to do in Puglia, but one must-see is the trulli houses at the UNESCO World Heritage site of Alberobello, which I’ve posted about here. Masseria Lamapecora makes its own olive oil as well as cheese, but we went on a tour of another olive oil-making masseria, Maccarone, which you can read about here.
Bookings for You and Raro Villas hosted us on this trip. All views are my own.
If you’re more interested in staying further north, I’ve written about Villa Pia, a family-friendly manor house on the border of Umbria and Tuscany.
(Note on images: some of the pictures in this post are mine but some of them were contributed by Raro Villas, or Penny Wincer photographer – who took the header image at the top of the page, and the one below. Their images are clearly marked.)
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