From pasture to cowshed

Fienagione
To make milk... you need fodder


Parmigiano Reggiano is made only from milk, rennet and salt, and yet every single cheese is different from the other. Why does it happen?
The answer is simple: because milk is not all the same!
It is said: “As easy as drinking a glass of milk”. Well, drinking milk it’s easy, but make it... it’s quite a different matter.
Before the dairymen begin their craft, cheese quality depends on what happens at the very beginning of the production process: from which cattle the milk comes from, and how the cows are nurtured, raised and… pampered.


Farmers and breeders driven by passion and necessityTrebbiatrice
In the mountains, a cows breeder often is a farmer too.
The members of the Battistero dairy are farmers driven by passion and necessity, too.

Driven by passion, as they are attached to the land that fed their great-grandparents, grandparents and parents; and for the same reason it’s very likely that their children will be attached  to their own fields, woods and valleys.

Driven by necessity, as traveling  and carrying goods on steep mountain paths has always been difficult and expensive, expecially in winter when most of them are not practicable.
So cattle breeders have always had to count on themselves as much as possible.

Despite the progress of tools and technologies, in the mountains is still the same today, and it’s impossible to carry on a farm by purchasing somewhere else all the straw and hay needed in the cowshed.


The four seasons in the field

Good hay grows… with good sense! It’s useless to complain because the weather is too hot or too cold, too dry or too moist: the farmer should know how to make the most of every season.

Winter is said to be a rest time for farmers. Actually it’s when they take care of their fields. They root out the weeds and clean the streams to prevent overflows in case of flood: this is a very important task for our mountains maintenance and the prevention of landslides.



Balloni

Spring is the awakening season. Within a few weeks, the soil, that during winter has recovered its strengh, makes grass and plants grow. In April starts haymaking and the “first cut” hay is picked up. But cutting it’s just the beginning: the hay must be left in the field for a day; then it must be turned and, the day after, raked: that means gathered in rows to be collected and compressed in bales. Each bale, or “ballone” (ie cylindrical bale), that weighs 300 or 400 kg, must rest for some days in the field to “cool down”. Only then it can be stored in the barn.

Summer is time for the threshers: sure you must have spotted those big “monsters” used toseparate wheat and barley grains from straw, which afterwards is used as bedding for cows in the stables. And it’s also the time for the second, and sometimes the third haymaking, that is if the weather is fine.

Pratostabile

Autumn is the busiest season, because it’s sowing time; but the fields must be fertilized first. As cow breeders, we think that the most natural fertilizers are the sewage and manure of our cattle: the remains of the hay they ate.
So we repay the soil of what it gave us: nothing is wasted and all nourishes naturally.
Then the fields are ploughed: the mouldboards dig deep, breaking the soil and lifting up the sods, which must be shattered to receive the seeds; finally the soil is compacted with a roller.

By dint of sowing and mowing, we pass about 10 times a year on the same field square metre!

Milk’s flavour comes from hay
All this work is made to prepare the daily menu for cows: indeed they eat only hay coming from Ceno and Pessola valleys, collected downstream, near the river, or upstream, depending on the season.


Medica

Once upon… a pasture
The hay comes from the so called “permanent meadows”, that means not cultivated, but grown spontaneously over time. They are typical of the mountain fields, that are hard to plough and sow. The older they are are, the more they produce a wild and various vegetation of grasses and flowers, which are good for the cattle and for the environment, because they ensure biodiversity and soil quality and stability.

Among spontaneous grasses in the hay there are: wild strawberries, mint, thyme, marjoram, wild garlic and orchids, sage and buttercup: you will find all these scents and flavours in the fresh cheeses as well as in the Parmigiano Reggiano.

Lucerne, cereals and legumes
Cows eat also lucerne, a cultivated legume that, cutted when it’s still blooming, it’s a source of proteins and vitamins and enriches the soil of nitrogen; they eat a mix of cereals and legumes too: mais, wheat, bran, barley, sorghum, pea.

Pappa

 

Even cows are on a “diet”
Daily food rations are indeed calculated according to individual needs: if the cow is young or older, if it’s pregnant or has just had a calf etc.
Some dairy’s associates operate according to their own experience, others get some help from new technologies: from a dedicated computer programme that, with a microchip, recognizes and controls what each cow eats, and gives it the right food amount for its daily ration.

 

> What happens next? The tale goes on with: "From cowshed to milking".


Thanks to Gabriella and Marino Marenghi from Segarati Farm for the precious information.

 

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