'It's not a job, it's a disease': Italy's rebel cheesemaker chooses tradition over innovation

Alfio Sassella
Alfio Sassella
By Igor Arabaolaza & Olatz De Solaeche
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Just 10 producers continue to make the 'Storico Ribelle' cheese in this traditional way.


“I feel much more comfortable here under the rain, wet and cold than in an apartment in the city," says Alfio Sassella, a traditional cheese producer in the Italian Alps. "I’ve always said, this is not a job, it’s a disease. When it gets you, you go with it."

Alfio is one of a small number of producers of ‘Storico Ribelle’, a cheese made exclusively with the milk of traditional alpine cattle. All the milking, cooking and preparation is done by hand, just as it was 200 years ago. Just 10 producers continue to make it in this traditional way.

"Our main characteristic is that we’ve always rejected innovation ... We don't use artificial additives in the milk. Milk, salt, rennet and that's it."

Rebel cheesemakers

The 'Storico Ribelle' cheese was originally known under the name 'Bitto Storico', a renowned brand produced in Italy's Lombard Alps, north of Milan.

The original Bitto cheese has a PDO status (Protected Designation of Origin) which means its producers must be from a defined geographical area and abide by a set of production rules in order to receive the certificate.

Usually, this status is an assurance of quality but a small number of Bitto producers, including Alfio, disagreed with decisions made by the PDO Bitto consortium and quit the group. As a result, they are no longer allowed to use the 'Bitto' name for their cheese.

"We left the PDO 10 or 12 years ago," explains Alfio. "To put it simply, the certification for the PDO comes through an office, through a certifying body that in most cases knows very little about my work and comes to certify that what I do respects regulations established by others ... Our cheese is protected by the Slow Food Presidium ... I’m the one who answers, not some abstract, far away entity."

Rural Rebels is a series that brings you stunning stories of food and drink producers around Europe who are rejecting industrial agriculture and modern lifestyles and instead embracing traditional and sustainable practices. Watch the full episode by clicking on the video player above.

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