In the province of Taranto there is a very long standing tradition of producing Cacioricotta using vegetable rennet extracted from the small branches of a fig tree, a tradition that has almost disappeared.
To make the Cacioricotta, a mix of both goat and sheep milk is used. This milk is heated until it begins to slightly boil. It is then taken off the heat and left to cool until it reaches 40-45°C, at which time the vegetable rennet that was obtained from the sap of the fig branches is added. The branches are taken, washed, chopped and left to soak in water for a quarter of an hour; the solution that is obtained from this is filtered and used for the cheese making process.
This type of rennet facilitates the cheese-making process which is complete just within a few minutes and is followed by the solidification of the cheese. The curd is then broken up and worked over and over again until it is the size of a grain of rice. Once the whey has been put aside, the curd is extracted and placed in small plastic draining baskets (moulds); part of the product can be consumed already after a few hours, without being salted, whilst the part that is to be seasoned remains for a few more days in the draining baskets. It is then extracted from the moulds and dried via a salting process, both sides are sprinkled with coarse salt. It is then placed in brine in cool rooms where, after roughly ten days, it reaches a consistency which is suitable for grating.
When the Cacioricotta is fresh it is consumed as a table cheese; after it has been cured for a short time it is excellent for seasoning summer dishes such as fresh tomatoes or vegetable stews.
Some sources state that Fig Cacioricotta is linked strongly to the Taranto area. In the Agricultural Catechism of 1793 written by G.B. Gagliardo, the author talks about the production of the Cacioricotta which took place in the summer when the milk of the now pregnant sheep lost substance and was unsuitable for other cheeses.
Today the production of Cacioricotta that is made using the fig sap method is disappearing. Fewer and fewer companies are choosing not to submit to industrialised production. There are few who remain that produce it according to this ancient tradition.
The research activities necessary for the reporting of this product in the Ark of Taste online catalogue were financed by the Ministry of Labour and Social Policies, the General Directorate of the Tertiary Sector and Corporate Social Responsibility – notice n° 1/2018 “Slow Food in action: communities protagonists of change”, pursuant to Article 72 of the Tertiary Sector Code, referred to in Legislative Decree No. 117/2017.