The Cheeses of Anversa

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Anversa degli Abruzzi sits on a ridge overlooking the Sagittario River gorges in the National Park of Abruzzo. The medieval village is home to about 430 inhabitants and the ruins of a Norman castle that dates back to the 12th Century.

It is also where some of Abruzzo’s best cheeses are made.

Anversa was the first stop on my recent trip to Italy. I had been wanting to visit Anversa for three years, ever since I first tasted the award-winning sheep’s milk cheeses made by my friend Bob Marcelli’s family. The Marcellis own an organic farm right at the edge of town called La Porta dei Parchi ~ the door to the parks ~ so named because  of its proximity to two of Abruzzo’s beautiful national parks (more than one-third of Abruzzo is protected national parkland). They raise Sopravvissana sheep, a local breed, and cows and produce an array of fresh and aged cheeses. Among the cheeses they are known for are Pecorino del Parco, a rich, crumbly aged sheep’s milk cheese; and Ricotta Ginepro, a slightly aged ricotta that is cold-smoked with juniper wood. Here’s a peek into the aging room at the farm:

Aged sheep’s milk (pecorino) cheeses at La Porta dei Parchi

 

Neatly tied bundles of scamorza ~ slightly aged mozzarella that is perfect for melting

 The farm was started in the late 1970s by Nunzio Marcelli and Manuela Cozzi. Their mission was to return to ~ and promote ~ a traditional way of farming and living that was being lost to modern industrial practices. They had another goal, too ~ to revive the pastoral way of life on which the region had thrived for centuries and to stem the tide of people who were leaving the region’s mountain towns to work in cities. Since those early years, Manuela, Nunzio, and Nunzio’s companion, Elettra Rinaldi, have worked to build the farm into a model bio-agriturismo, with accommodations for visitors and a family-run restaurant. They’ve formed a cooperative with other organic producers to promote the area’s culinary specialties—cheese, pasta, honey, and olive oil among them.

In 2000, Manuela launched the farm’s Adopt-a-Sheep program to raise money for the operation and, as Manuela told me, “to build client loyalty and to pass the word about our sheep.” In return for “adopting” a sheep you receive a selection of cheeses, salumi, and other products, plus a pair of knitted wool socks.

Bob Marcelli, who lives on this side of the Atlantic, began importing his family’s cheeses in 2008, supplying restaurants from Babbo and Per Se, in New York, to Fiola, in D.C. It was Bob’s enthusiasm and pride in his family’s work that convinced me that I should visit.

Anversa itself is lovely, a picturesque town of narrow streets and steep stone stairways that take you from the castle ruins to the main piazza, where you’ll find the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, two cafes, and a fountain from which flows fresh, ice-cold mountain water.

 

Bob Marcelli’s cousin Bianca runs the local restaurant, La Fiaccola, named after a play by poet Gabriele d’Annunzio that is set in Anversa. You can taste many of La Porta dei Parchi’s cheeses at the restaurant, and Bianca’s potato gnocchi, light as a cloud and dressed with a creamy pecorino sauce, are not to be missed.

On the day that my family and I visited the farm, the sheep were nowhere to be found ~ they were high on the hillside grazing on the local grass and flora. But cheese maker Fiorello was there and he kindly let us watch as he transformed the rich sheep’s milk…

into cheese.

These particular baskets were destined for the aging room, but La Porta dei Parchi also makes fresh cheeses ~ rich, sweet sheep’s milk ricotta and creamy mozzarella. You can’t get those fresh cheeses over here in the U.S., but you can find a selection of the aged cheeses, including the juniper-smoked ricotta, at Eataly in NYC and on the Marcelli Formaggi web site. And check out La Porta dei Parchi’s web site* for information on the agriturismo operation and the Adopt-a-Sheep program.

(*NOTE: The last few times I’ve tried to open La Porta dei Parchi’s web site I haven’t been successful; if you aren’t able to open it immediately, keep trying ~ there’s lots of good information on the site.)

Next up: A trip to the Gran Sasso d’Italia and eating arrosticini. 

 

 

 

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20 Responses to The Cheeses of Anversa

  1. Betty Ann @Mango_Queen July 30, 2012 at 2:27 pm #

    Hi Domenica! What a wonderful post on your recent trip and these cheeses! Your description of everything made me want to get on a plane and explore all these. Thanks for sharing! Your photos were awesome!

    • Domenica July 30, 2012 at 7:24 pm #

      Thanks Betty Ann. The Abruzzo region of Italy is my favorite, and Anversa is truly a special place. Just looking at the pictures makes me nostalgic… Thanks for reading.

  2. elisa July 30, 2012 at 3:41 pm #

    Ben tornata! Great post and the information given, can’t wait to see the rest of your trip. I found info on Anversa on

    http://www.borghitalia.it/html/borgo_en.php?codice_borgo=714

    • Domenica July 30, 2012 at 7:25 pm #

      Grazie, Elisa. It was hard to come back, that’s for sure!

  3. Laura (Tutti Dolci) July 30, 2012 at 5:54 pm #

    I’d love to visit Anversa, thanks for the insider’s look of the cheese aging room!

    • Domenica July 30, 2012 at 7:26 pm #

      Thank you for reading, Laura. I wish we could get the scamorza here. It’s my favorite.

  4. Wendy July 30, 2012 at 8:42 pm #

    That scamorza looks fabulous! How far is this area from Florence? I will be in Florence in March visiting my son who will be on a term abroad, and I’m looking for somewhere off the beaten path for a side trip of a few days for me and my husband.

    • Domenica August 1, 2012 at 8:16 am #

      Wendy ~ lucky you to be going to Florence. You will love it if you haven’t already been. And March should be nice because it (hopefully) won’t be too crowded. Anversa is about 3 1/2 hours southeast of Florence, so I’m not sure how convenient it would be. There is beautiful countryside outside of Florence and west towards Lucca (itself a beautiful medieval city). I especially like the Garfagnana area north of Lucca, which is less tourist-traveled and more rugged than the rest of Tuscany. Buon viaggio!

      • Wendy August 5, 2012 at 11:49 am #

        I have been to Florence a couple of times before (and even spent a day in beautiful Lucca – I especially remember the market and that my husband’s grandmother was enthralled that it was the hometown of Puccini), but it’s been many years! I will look into the Garfagnana area. Thanks!

  5. nancy baggett July 31, 2012 at 12:55 am #

    Love the cheese making pics–wish I were there! I don’t know why juniper berries aren’t used in more recipes. They have a lovely flavor with meat, and I’m sure would be lovely in cheese as well.

    • Domenica August 1, 2012 at 8:10 am #

      I agree, Nancy ~ juniper berries are underused. I’ll bet you especially could find something wonderful to do with them in baking!

  6. Meeta July 31, 2012 at 2:51 am #

    I love these kind of posts. You took me straight with you on this tour. I adore cheese and would love to visit such a place. Thank you for taking me there virtually.

    • Domenica August 1, 2012 at 8:11 am #

      Thanks for reading, Meeta!

  7. ciaochowlinda July 31, 2012 at 3:55 pm #

    I’d love to visit that place the next time I’m in Abruzzo. I was drooling over the photos of the cheeses. I’ve met Bob and had his cheese in Philly, at Le Virtu restaurant.

    • Domenica August 1, 2012 at 8:20 am #

      Thanks Linda. I’m glad to hear that Marcelli cheeses are at Le Virtu. Now if only I could get there! I am in awe of the work that Bob’s family is doing in Anversa. They are so committed to this project and to improving the economy in the area, a monumental task.

  8. Jamie August 2, 2012 at 9:42 am #

    Fantastic post! I love the adopt-a-sheep program! We so miss Italian cheeses and buy them here in France when we can. This village is gorgeous and the family’s history fascinating. I wonder if I’ll ever get to visit this area of Italy. (I must also say that Scamorza Affumicata is my family’s favorite.)

    • Domenica August 2, 2012 at 12:28 pm #

      We love scamorza affumicata too, Jamie. I put it in my pasta al forno, and I like to grill it as well ~ all’Abruzzese! Over here it is really hard to get good scamorza affumicata. It is all over the place in Abruzzo!

  9. Rossella August 2, 2012 at 9:46 am #

    Marvellous. I’m just writing a post on Ricotta Ginepro from Anversa. Your post is wonderful!

    • Domenica August 2, 2012 at 10:25 am #

      Grazie, Rosella. Thanks for reading. I love that ricotta Ginepro. Manuela showed us the smoker at the caseificio and it smelled like heaven. I look forward to reading your post.

  10. janie August 4, 2012 at 3:59 pm #

    Thank you so much for this post-the great photos and all the wonderful information. I want to hop on a plane and go right over! I’ve yet to visit Abruzzo ,but hopefully I will get to soon.

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