Cheese production is one of many activities that reflects the integration over the centuries of Cape Verde’s twin spirits, African and European.
The difficult, arid environment, characterized by infrequent rains that fall on particularly sandy ground, could only be settled by determined, persevering people, the product of a multitude of different ethnic groups and histories, and by goats, the only animals able to survive on so little.
Different types of goat cheese are made on the archipelago’s various islands, including across the island of Santo Antão. But a mountainous, dry and almost uninhabited plateau on the island, the Planalto Norte (at an altitude of between 800 and 1500 meters) is home to a last small nucleus of herders who play a crucial role in protecting the land, subject to significant erosion from the torrential, if rare, rainfall.
The methods used to raise animals and make cheese in the Planalto Norte are examples of an impressive capacity to adapt to the difficult environmental conditions. The animals, left to graze freely for the whole day, spontaneously gather in the late morning to drink at the milking areas, where the kids are kept in drystone shelters. After milking, the goats stay with the kids for two or three hours and then return to graze freely until the next day. The animals are milked once a day, and cheesemaking starts immediately afterwards, in tiny traditional stone huts with straw roofs and matting known as case de queijo.
Each step in the process is carried out with extreme care, keeping water consumption to a minimum. Water is valuable here and, except for short periods, has to be brought in by tanker or donkey. Processing is carried out without using additional sources of heat. Kid’s rennet produced by the herders is added to the raw milk. After about an hour and a half or two hours the curd is broken down to the size of corn kernels, left to settle and the whey is removed. The paste is then shaped and pressed by hand into metal molds and left to drain.
The final product is a rennet-coagulated pure goat’s milk cheese, semi-hard and cylindrical in shape (10 to 15 centimeters in diameter) with a flat top and bottom and low and slightly convex sides (3 to 4 centimeters high). The paste is compact and uniform, without eyes, and ivory-white in color. It has a subtle milky aroma with herbaceous notes, while on the palate it is sweet with a slightly tangy flavor and a soft, somewhat elastic texture.
The Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity provides the Presidium with the training and assistance needed for the various stages of production (from ripening the milk to aging the cheeses) and, in particular, is working to make the cheese more widely known.
Improved commercialization will enable the people of Planalto Norte to continue living there, thereby preserving their identity and their home without having to seek alternative sources of income in the cities or tourist villages.
Planalto Norte, Santo Antão island
Presidium supported by
Project realized in collaboration with the Piedmont Regional Authority