Who: Francesco Bagnoli
Where: Lamporecchio, Tuscany, Italy
A few months ago I found myself in Italy at the top of a hill at dusk, surrounded by olive trees and nibbling fresh cheese made by a blonde curly-haired man straight out of a Renaissance painting. "Is this heaven?" I pondered. There is something truly idyllic about I Due Falcetti, a small artisanal cheesemaking operation in Tuscany run by Francesco Bagnoli.
Here I give a peek into how Francesco makes his delicious cheese, a process full of passion and expertise which is characteristic of so many artisanal food products in Italy.
The Land and Workshop
Francesco and his brother create cheese from 15 cows who roam completely free over their 45-acre property in Lamporecchio, Tuscany, about halfway between Lucca and Florence. Cows munch on olive trees, grasses, flowers and other wild vegetation, and their diet varies with the season as different plants come and go. Sometimes their milk even turns pink when they forage for berries on the property!
The I Due Falcetti cheesemaking facility is a small, two-room area on the bottom level of the Bagnoli home. It's a small setup, consisting of just a few large pots and sterilized tools in one room, which sits adjacent to the cheese cellar where molds and packaging materials are stored. Grandma Lorena, the matriarch of the family, sits in the home kitchen next door to this space, where she watches her afternoon television programs. (You can see her picture in the gallery tour — she's so cute!)
Francesco and his family make 16 types of cheese from their antibiotic- and- hormone-free cow milk. I sampled three different semi-hard cheeses (one covered with black pepper, another red chili flakes, and a plain version) and one soft cheese, a primo sale which translates to "first salt."
Each cheese surpassed the next in flavor and character. They struck a balance between smooth, velvety tang and slight funk, finished with a sweet grassiness so elemental and of the land. The primo sale was especially light and creamy, a fresh rindless cheese taken directly from the mold (as pictured above), sprinkled with sea salt and served immediately. It was a wonder of simplicity.
I Due Falcetti operates almost solely on a subscription-based service. Similar to our concept of a CSA share, Spesa a kilometro zero (which translates "shopping at zero kilometers") is nothing new in Italy, but it's seen a rise in popularity as Italians strive to directly support the farmers and makers within their beautiful (and very food-focused!) country. Local families and restaurants frequently buy into a year's worth of cheese, which is delivered to a convenient checkpoint for pickup each week. This cheese tends to be very reasonably priced, too, which makes it possible for everyone to buy it, not just an elite crowd.
For Francesco and I Due Falcetti, cheesemaking is a way of life, and what a privilege to meet someone who isn't just interested in expanding and making more money! Francesco wants to stay small so he can continue to perfect his cheese. He knows the flavor and quality is dependent upon the wildness and health of the land his cows graze on, as well as his continued ability to properly care for his 15 animals without blitzing them with preventative antibiotics. Continuing to follow these time-honed traditions means he can create amazing cheese in his own home. This is as good as it gets — truly a cheese heaven!