Giuncata from the Reatini Mountains is a fresh, delicate cheese that can be made from cow’s, sheep’s or goat’s milk, or more often a mix of different milks. The production process is simple: The milk is filtered then heated to between 36° and 38°C, rennet (from calves or lambs) is added, then as soon as the curds form they are broken up into large pieces and careful extracted. That’s it. No cultures or salt are added. Everything comes down to the quality of the milk—and of course the pastures where the cows grazed.
This means that the finest Giuncata is made in late spring, when the mountain meadows are full of different species of grasses and flowers. The cheese, pure white and with a tender, creamy texture, must be eaten within a few days of production, though it is at its best when just made and still warm.
Giuncata is produced around Italy, but in the Central Apennine mountains of northern Lazio, close to the border with Umbria and Abruzzo, it has a unique history. Here Giuncata was the typical breakfast for herders. It was known as sdejuno or sdijuno because it formed a nutritious meal prepared after the many hours of fasting (digiuno) since the light dinner that would have been eaten very early the evening before.
Traditionally it was linked to Ascension (40 days after Easter). Other cheeses were not made on this special day: all of the milk was allotted to the production of Giuncata, which was then shared with friends (put in a bowl and passed around for everyone to take a piece with their own spoon) or given to needy families or those without animals.
In the Reatini Mountains, Giuncata is made by small farms that raise sheep, goats, cows and pigs. For most of the year the animals are free to graze in the mountain pastures, which can be as high as 1,900 meters above sea level.
The cheese can be eaten as soon as it is made, or within 2 to 3 days, though it must be refrigerated and kept in its whey. It is made year-round.
The Presidium has been established to promote this simple, ancient cheese, but also to support pastoral farming in an area still struggling following earthquakes in 2016 and 2017.
The Presidium farms suffered damage to their buildings, like homes, sheds, barns and dairies. In one case, an entire holiday farm and its farm shop collapsed.
The Reatini Mountains were a tourism destination, with many visitors coming to the small villages in the summer, particularly from Rome. Now many of these villages are still piles of rubble and the farms, which relied on direct sales, are in serious difficulty. The earthquakes took away friends, family and homes and now they risk taking away the future of these communities as well.
Staying here, continuing to pasture animals and make cheeses, is a great challenge.
Reatini Mountains, Rieti province, northern Lazio, close to the border with Umbria and Abruzzo
Presidium supported by
Consorzio del Formaggio Parmigiano Reggiano
di Fabio Guerci
Via del Santuario, 2
Tel. 368 3137909 - 339 2472108
Cooperativa Rinascita 78
Frazione Illica, 2
Tel. 0746 80625 - 348 7766624 - 389 4926031