Milk, rennet, salt, and all the flavor of alpine pastures

26 March 2021

Those familiar with Slow Food will know that for many years the association has promoted a philosophy regarding cheese that encourages the use of raw milk and natural ferments – or else no ferments at all. It’s a philosophy that shared with many Slow Food Presidia and their producers. Among them, the Caseificio sociale (Social Dairy) of Primiero which produces three different Presidia cheeses: Primiero Mountain Botiro, Puzzone di Moena malga cheese, and Mountain Trentingrana.

As well as these, they make numerous other products including tosèla (a fresh cheese used cold in carpaccio or cooked with butter and salt to accompany polenta), fontal, Trentino mezzano, and rosetta, which, besides the differences in their production, all have something in common: the treatment of the animals and their milk. A type of treatment that could be summarized with two words: respect and love.

To speak about the Social Dairy of Primiero I speak on the phone with Gianandrea Calaresu, communication manager. He explains the logic behind the dairy’s workings, which may seem antiquated but are highly effective and guarantee that everyone, even those with just a few animals, can be an active part of the productive process.


The dairy is the end result of a simple historic fact, as Gianandrea explains: “In this valley of eastern Trentino, farming has always been present.” We’re talking about a king of farming that’s a world away from the industrial kind, of course: “Local families sometimes had just two animals for their own needs. These farmers – originally there were 18 of them – formed this cooperative in 1973, and a decade later the dairy reaches its peak of membership, when there were 294 different farmers contributing milk.”

And how did things evolve from there? “Over time things changed, moving from lots of members with few animals to more-structured farms with a higher number of animals.”

Today the Social Dairy of Primiero has 66 members, of whom around 20 deliver milk only in the summer, during the period when the animals are out on the pastures of the Paneveggio Pale di San Martino Natural Park. The role of the dairy is to offer a series of services to its members to make their work easier. There’s diversity among members too. “We have some very young farmers. Some are carrying on a family tradition and they’re committed to this work with a passion that’s still strongly felt around these parts. There are also young women among our members too.”

As well as the members, there are the workers in the dairy itself, who take care of production, trade and administration. Then there are the people managing their two connected mountain refuges: Agritur malga Rolle and Agritur malga Fossernica.

Botiro, Trentingrana and Puzzone di Moena: the producers

The three Slow Food Presidia produced here represent the best possible transformation of the milk. They’re all made in summer, with milk from pasture-raised cows: a milk that’s rich in aroma and nutrients.

In local dialect “botiro” means butter, and, in the age of the Venetian Republic, the best butter sold in the floating city came from the pastures of Primiero, among the peaks of the Dolomites in the Pale di San Martino park and the mountains of Lagorai. The quality was and still is exceptional, both for its floral richness and its careful transformation, which allowed the product to be conserved for several months.

Regarding the Trentingrana, the method of production is similar to Grana Padano or Parmigiano Reggiano: the pasture milk from two milkings, once skimmed, is placed in copper boilers, in the shape of upturned bells, each of which is enough for two wheels of cheese. The whey from the previous day’s milk is added to these containers. After nine months, if there are no defects, the cheese can be sold, but only after 18 months will it be branded on its flat side with the Trentingrana logo.

The puzzone (or smelly one) has, as you might expect, a strong aromatic character. Some may it stinks! But for the gourmet it’s a penetrating and complex bouquet. There are strong notes of fermentation and a sort of cellar smell from the treatment of the crust when the cheese is first cut, but these notes then expand to more familiar aromas of pastures, alpine grass and ripe fruit. To taste it’s mellow, with hints of toasted hazelnuts and a long after taste.

Quality milk, 12 months a year

The botiro cheese of the Social Dairy of Primiero
Primiero Mountain Botiro, Slow Food Presidium. Photo: Alberto Peroli

The winter milk is also of high quality, as in the cold months the cows eat mainly local forage, supplemented with GMO-free feed where necessary.

Just as importantly, the milk is processed fresh and keeps it high quality from the stalls onwards through a series of meticulous checks. And this milk, for the most part, is processed raw. Gianandrea explains: “With a few exceptions where pasteurization or thermization are practiced, the majority of our cheeses are raw milk cheeses. We’re talking about 70% of all the milk we work with. There’s not much else to add: our cheeses all have a simple recipe of milk, rennet and salt. If the milk is of good quality, it’s more than sufficient.”

A difficult year faced head on

Social Dairy of Primiero's Puzzone di Moena cheese
Puzzone di Moena malga cheese, Slow Food Presidium. Photo: Marco Bruzzo

As so often when we speak to producers, two words on 2020 are in order. The Social Dairy of Primiero is among those businesses that have faced the crisis well, despite the difficulties. As Gianandrea puts it, “Obviously 2020 was a disaster for some of our activities: for the agritourism, which opened in the summer, but which are now closed; we’re doing more work with schools and tourists interested in discovering our work.”

He concludes: “In any case, commercially the year was positive, despite everything. We already had a solid online presence, since 2014, and this has allowed to achieve good results. Thanks to our communication activities people have been able to see the quality of what we offer, and we’ve had orders from many different regions.”

This is one of the most important results of knowing how to communicate the quality of simple things: milk, rennet and salt. And the beautiful world behind alpine pastures and the cheeses they gift us with.

by Silvia Ceriani,


Cover photo shows Mountain Trentingrana, Slow Food Presidium. Photo: Valerie Ganio Vecchiolino