Ragusano cheese

Ark of taste
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Ragusano could be called the ‘ingot of the Hyblaean Mountains’ due to its parallelepiped shape and the intense golden rind when it is well aged. The cheesemaker needs a lot of physical strength and, at the same time, the precision of a goldsmith to give it the right shape. At the final stage of the curd stretching – called ‘chiusura’ (closing) – the curd is made into a perfect sphere with no cracks. The transformation from a sphere to a parallelepiped is obtained with the help of the ‘mastredda’, a wooden board where the cheese is placed and then molded using heavy wooden blocks. To make sure that the edges and the rounded surfaces preserve the right shape, the cheesemaker must turn the cheese every 10, 30, 60 minutes for 6-8 hours.Ragusano is a stretched curd cheese, like mozzarella and caciocavallo. It is hanged to the ceiling of fresh cellars and, after a few months, it takes on a golden color and starts releasing scents of Mediterranean shrubs and orange blossoms.However, it is the product of a fragile system: Modicane cows are endangered, farms are losing the central role they once had, and consumption is mainly local.All the attempts to produce Ragusano in large dairies with modern technologies have been disappointing. The quality and uniqueness of the farm cheese have never been reproduced. The uniqueness of Ragusano is immediately visible by looking at it: a large block of cheese (12-16 kg) with an unusual shape and the clear marks of the ropes used to tie it and hang it to the ceiling to age.It is produced exclusively from November to May, when the pastures of the Hyblaean Mountains offer more than a hundred varieties of flowers and herbs.The full-fat, raw milk from two milk yields is heated at 36°C, then lamb or goat rennet is added. When the ‘ruotula’ (a sort of stick) immersed in the mass stands up, the curd is broken to obtain grains the size of corn. The curd is placed on a wooden board to rest, then cooked in hot water or boiling whey and left to rest for another 20-24 hours. When the optimal pH is reached, the curd is cut, placed in the wooden or copper sieve and boiled in very hot water (85°C).With the help of hands or a stick, the curd – which starts to stretch – is worked and finally given a sphere shape. The sphere is hand worked with the help of two boards, until it the classic parallelepiped shape with a square section is obtained.

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