Local Taste

The Fior di latte: a food art kept in the cheesemaker’s hands

In Tramonti, the Vitagliano family has been making cheese for generations. We went to the laboratory to discover its secrets.

By Francesca Faratro

Handed down between hands that caress the smooth and elastic paste, preserved by families that from generation to generation have kept the tradition, the processing of Tramonti’s Fior di latte is one of the very few artisan productions that have remained intact over time. In this green village of the Amalfi Coast, immersed in nature and divided into 13 hamlets, one is still lucky enough to find small laboratories where every day, with the first light of dawn, magic happens. Producing fior di latte is not only a passion handed down only from father to son, but it is also the safeguarding of heritage, the gastronomic one, to be preserved and defended. Agostino and Emma Vitagliano know this well. Together with their father Maurizio and mother Rosa, every day, early in the morning, they begin processing milk at their dairy in the village of Campinola. Although this kind of work requires a lot of sacrifices and efforts, they do it with passion and enthusiasm, values that they want to pass through to their children.

From father to son

“I was just a boy. I was eleven years old, and before going to school, I used to go with my grandfather to assist him during the milk collection. When I was thirteen years old, I decided to start working, learning the secrets directly from the skilled hands of my grandfather. My great-grandparents were already cheesemakers. I did some researches, and I found some documents dating back to 1904. Today with my children, we have reached the fifth generation,” says Maurizio Vitagliano.

The work process of fior di latte at Caseificio Maurizio Vitagliano, Tramonti

The magic of cheesemakers’ white gold

They use only cow’s milk that comes from different towns of the Campania region, and after having stored it in the tanks, the cheesemaker proceeds with the processing. When the milk is heated, they add the kid rennet to divide the whey from the curd. “From the latter, with the addition of water at a temperature of 90° and salt, the pasta filata (spun paste) is worked only by hand,” explains Agostino. “The mozzarellas are made, one by one, when the paste is smooth, tender, and stringy. For us, producing fior di latte means handing down an ancient tradition and keeping alive a flavor capable of bringing on the surface childhood memories in those who taste it and in us who, although we produce it every day, we are still greedy for it! The raw material is treated with love: we like to imagine to transfer this love to the milk during the processing only in this way we will be sure to bring to the table a quality product”.

Pioneers of history

“We are very young, and we are also parents. Although our work is full of sacrifices and early waking up, we want to pass on the tradition of our ancestors, consigning to history this precious art – say Agostino and his sister Emma Vitagliano – The effort is paid off. We read it on our customers’ faces who, satisfied, choose us every day. We have understood that our fior di latte rhymes with happiness, so we always try to produce it in the best possible way, even when the weather conditions do not play in our favor! We like to preserve the different sizes delivered by history!”

The Vitagliano Family at work

The shapes of fior di latte and the variants

The fior di latte is born with the classic spherical shape with a variable weight according to the type. It is possible to make different shapes with the same dough, such as braids, knots, cherries, or even mozzarella sheets and babas. Dough in the hands is fun, it can be shaped in a thousand ways, but a good connoisseur will not care about dimensions but taste, and this changes whether it is made by hand or with the help of a machine. In the mouth, the perception will be minimal, but it will distinguish the product obtained.

From provola to caciocavallo

No salt will be added with the same dough made, the provola. The external brine will give the tastiness while what characterizes it is the smoking, the salient passage with smoke, without direct flame. After having made the chosen size, from the smallest to the biggest ones, mozzarellas are passed in the smoker where, by using natural beech wood shavings, the product will get its characteristic brown color. There is also caciocavallo, fresh or aged up to two years, cheeses, flavored with herbs and spices and ricotta cheese, the classic one and the one from fuscella, even creamier, the one which in ancient times was kept in hand-stuffed baskets, now forbidden.

Mozzarella babas with local meat, by Caseificio Maurizio Vitagliano

Secrets for eating fior di latte

To be consumed alone or seasoned, passed on hot coals or used in cooking, fior di latte to be tasted at its best must be kept in water, out of the refrigerator, and eaten in the first two days from production: it will remain intact and without changing its taste. After this time, it will be necessary to store it in the refrigerator, without water, allowing it to dry to be used when cooked and in the shortest time possible.

Useful information:

Caseificio Vitagliano Maurizio: Via S. Sebastiano, 24, Campinola – Tramonti (SA), tel. / 338.377.94.21, email: caseificiovitaglianomaurizio@hotmail.it

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