This sheep’s cheese is the only one of its kind in the world, it is linked exclusively to Escalaplano, a town with just over 2000 inhabitants surrounded by arid plateaus that are bordered by the deep valleys of Flumendosa and Flumineddu, in the south eastern hinterland of Sardinia.
In this pastoral area, once famous for the production of cork, axridda is produced, a cheese that is completely covered with clay, which in Sardinian dialect is called axridda, (the "x" is pronounced as the "j" of “Jeux”, “game” in French).
In ancient times in Escalaplano, as in the rest of Sardinia, due to the arid climate of the long and sunny summers, problems could arise in the preservation of the sheep’s cheese, which was exclusively matured in natural environments. The families of the time realised that by combining it with clay, quarried not far from the town, the sheep’s cheese could go through a long aging process more easily. The clay, in fact, protects the cheese by creating a natural coating that slows down its developmental processes by maintaining the correct degree of humidity in the curd and defending it from infestations from mites and flies. Finally, it also reduces the number of times the pecorino must be turned over when maturing on shelves.
The axridda has a cylindrical or truncated cone shape, with a weight ranging from 2 to 4 kilograms, although there are shapes that reach 12 kilograms. The curd is quite crumbly and has a straw colour, it is covered with a hard, wrinkled and grey coloured rind.
To produce axridda, raw sheep’s milk (exclusively from the Sardinian breed) is coagulated with veal rennet to form a raw curd: when the curd is formed, it is broken into small granules, it is then put into mould and salted. After the dry salting, the cheese forms are matured by being turned over and cleaned, first with warm water and then with mastic oil (obtained from the pressing of the small berries picked from a shrub, typically found in the local Mediterranean scrub). After 5 to 7 months, the cheese is wrapped in clay, forming a slightly oily coating that adheres elastically to the rind and, after at least another month of maturation, the axridda is ready to be consumed.
The minimum maturation time is six months, but the cheese gives its best over time: cheese forms that reach even thirty months still have an underlying freshness that is not hidden by the fully developed notes and the decisive spiciness typical of long-aged pecorino cheeses. On the other hand, the youngest axridde, are particularly sweet, explode with herbaceous scents and the aromatic smell of mastic oil.
Slow Food has always been active in giving a future to Sardinian sheep farming and it does so by creating new Presidiums for cheeses that are linked to the territory and that are in danger of disappearing, such as the Arxidda from Escalaplano.
The Axridda Presidium was created to protect and promote a production that has a long tradition in Escalaplano, but which is now safeguarded by only a few families and is in danger of disappearing. The Presidium was born with a single shepherd who transforms his own milk and sells the cheese; the other shepherds produce it for family consumption or sell the milk to dairies.
Slow Food is committed to involving other virtuous farmers in the project, who will therefore be able to obtain the right recognition for their work. The Presidium’s production guidelines establish the methods of farming the flock - semi-wild with limited feeding of cereals during the summer when grazing is scarce - up to the final phase of the production of the sheep’s cheese, which sees the use of clay exclusively from the area of production.
Municipality of Escalaplano and the neighbouring municipalities (Province of South Sardinia).
Ministero del Lavoro e delle Politiche Sociali
Il Presidio dell’Arxidda di Escalaplano è finanziato dal Ministero del Lavoro e delle Politiche Sociali, Direzione Generale del Terzo Settore e della Responsabilità Sociale delle Imprese – avviso n° 1/2018 “Slow
Food in azione: le comunità protagoniste del cambiamento”, ai sensi dell’articolo 72 del codice del Terzo Settore, di cui al decreto legislativo n 117/2017
di Rino Farci
Via Mascagni, 1
Tel. 329 4472971
Tel. +39 329 4472971