The name Brigasca comes from La Brigue, a French village in the Val Roya known in centuries past for being the most important centre for sheep farming in this area where Liguria, Piedmont and Provence. Over time La Brigue has been French, Italian, then French again, but the local people have always spoken Brigasc, a dialect understood on each side of the border and a descendant of the ancient Occitan language.
The native Brigasca sheep breed probably originated from the same lineage as the Frabosana: the convex profile and, in the males, the spiral horns curving backwards, are similar, with only the body a little less stout. The hardy animal has muscular limbs and strong, dark hooves suited to grazing on rough terrain. The traditional farming method involves a period of seven to eight months in mountain pastures and around four months in coastal areas where the mild climate makes it possible for the sheep to graze outdoors through the winter as well. Techniques and tools linked to the centuries-old tradition of transhumance (the seasonal livestock migration) are used to turn the sheep’s milk into toma (a rectangular cheese also known as sora), ricotta and brus.
The toma is made by adding rennet to milk from the evening milking mixed with the morning’s milk. After curdling, the curd is broken with a rubatà, a traditional wooden stick, and left to settle. The curds are then collected in a rough cloth (raireura) and wrapped in a bundle, on which a large stone is placed. After around 12 hours, the mass is removed from the cloth and cut into symmetrical pieces, which will become the tomas. The cheeses are dry-salted with sea salt and left to age in a cool place on wooden boards for at least 60 days. The whey left over from cheesemaking is brought to a temperature close to boiling for the production of ricotta. When left to ferment for at least 10 days, it becomes brus.
Sheep were a primary source of income for the small local communities and the archives record disputes over the ownership of the best pastures. The definition of political and administrative borders in 1947 made the movement of animals more difficult, causing the number of animals to start to decline. The impoverishment of the livestock population had very negative effects not just on the economy of these mountain areas but also the landscape.
The meat and dairy products are available year round.
The Presidium, supported by the Region of Liguria, wants to promote the Brigasca sheep still being reared in the few mountain pastures remaining along the border with France and to support the crucial role herders play in protecting and safeguarding the natural environment.
The few remaining producers work hard, moving their flocks from pasture to pasture, often in difficult conditions, but they have a great passion for their work. The Presidium wants to help them to improve these conditions.
Area where Liguria and Piedmont meet France: Imperia province and some municipalities in Savona and Cuneo provinces
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