From Arequipa, a historic Andean city known as the ciudad blanca, a road climbs up through a lunar landscape, carved out of steep, barren, rocky cliffs. After about four hours’ drive, it reaches Lluta, a stone village surrounded by geometric patterns made from drystone walls that mark out small rectangles of wheat, clover, corn, onions and fruit trees. White and black cows graze the pastures, along with horses and a few densely fleeced sheep. The farmers work the land by attaching pairs of oxen to a wooden plow, and get around on donkeys. Four kilometers from the center of the village is an ancient red salt mine, still active. Once, before the road to the sea was built, it was the only salt available to the community. Now it is used for animals and to make the village’s typical red cheese.
Produced here for generations, Lluta red cheese is obtained from full-fat, raw milk from cows who graze freely all year round. After milking, it is filtered, poured into a pan and immediately processed, without heating. Rennet is added (once made from the lambs’ or kids’ stomachs, now bought) and left for around half an hour. The curd is then broken very finely with a wooden spoon and the whey drained off. The curds are packed into circular molds made from woven rope and pressed lightly by hand. When the forms (each around 15 centimeters in diameter and 7 centimeters tall) are ready, they are covered with red salt, ground at home using a large oval stone.
The cheese can be eaten the next day, but is best after four or five days. It can also age for a few weeks, becoming harder and drier. The whey is used to make an excellent ricotta.
Before consuming the cheese, the surface is rinsed with water to remove the salt. The red cheese can be eaten on its own with some bread, cut into cubes for soltero (a salad of cheese, tomatoes, onions, fava beans, carrots, potatoes, parsley and lemon), used to stuff sweet empanadas or as an ingredient in blanco (a cream of wheat, milk and cheese).
The cheese is already of a high quality, with good milk and grass flavors, but the hygiene conditions of the processing facilities need to be improved. The producers need to be properly registered and need a communal brand, a production protocol and a narrative label. Then it will be necessary to work on promoting the cheese at the Arequipa markets and to Peru’s top restaurants.
One of the Presidium’s objectives is to safeguard the Serrana breed, a cow with a black coat and large horns. The breed is increasingly rare because, like all native cattle, it produces little milk, even though it is rich in fat and of excellent quality. Over the last 40 years the breed has been replaced by or crossed with the Friesian, by now common throughout the valley.
Lluta, Caylloma province, Arequipa region
Presidium supported by
Lluta Municipality Director
tel. +51 986128713