The term Silter is of Celtic origin and refers to the place where cheeses were aged. The cave (shilter) was often carved out of the rock and finished with brick walls and vaults. There is no doubt that Lombardy’s cheesemaking history descends from the Celts, considered the fathers of cheesemaking in all of northern Italy, even though the first documentary traces of the name Silter date back only to the 17th century.
Silter cheese, a gem of the Brescian valleys, is ideally suited to aging and is produced all year round, both in the mountain pastures and in the winter stations, in the upper Val Camonica and the upper Sebino Bresciano. Raw milk is always used, primarily from Bruna Alpina cows (at least 80%) and a small number of Pezzata Rossa and Grigio Alpina animals. The cows graze on pasture in the warm part of the year; during the winter they live in stables and eat fodder and a small quantity of cereals and leguminous plants.
Presidium Silter is produced with the milk of animals that graze in mountain or lowland pastures. It is made using milk from more than one milking, which is skimmed after the cream has naturally risen. This cream is used to make butter, once an important source of income in the mountain agriculture economy.
The skimmed milk is poured into tanks or simple basins and, after resting for at least 8 hours, is slightly heated and curdled with calf rennet and milk or whey starter produced by the cheesemaker. The curd is broken into small pieces the size of a grain of rice. It is then cooked and, after resting in the whey, is pressed into molds. Salted by hand or in brine, the large Silter forms, which range from 10 to 16 kilograms and have a diameter of 30-40 centimeters, mature on wooden shelves. In the mountains, maturation takes place in caves, and in lowlands in cool rooms. After 100 days, during which the cheeses are regularly massaged with linseed oil, the silter is branded. As is the case with all semi-fat hard cheeses, Silter is aged for a long period, far beyond 100 days.
Pasture Silter has a hard texture, with little springiness, slightly crumbly and sometimes with uniform, small-to-medium eyes. The color is yellow and varies in intensity depending on the pasture grasses and the aging of the cheese. The distinctive sweet, aromatic flavor sometimes evolves into piquancy. Pastures and Alpine grasses are the main scents to be noted, as well as, in some cases, chestnut flour.
With its distinctive flavor, the cheese is well suited to being eaten on its own, but it is also used in the local cuisine as a filling or topping for tortelloni, risotto and gnocchi. Of particular note are the gnocchi stuffed with Silter and made from cornmeal ground from spinusa, the black beaked corn of the Val Camonica.
Silter is a recent Italian PDO – created in 2015 – and is made year-round by around 20 dairies, among individual breeders and cooperatives that belong to the Silter PDO consortium.
Slow Food has chosen to promote through a Presidium the cheese obtains exclusively with milk from grazing cows. At the start of the good season the farmers bring their animals grazing to pastures surrounding winter stables. Then, in spring the animals are brought to the “maggenghi” (traditional huts used in May), and finally in summer in the Alpine huts, at altitudes between 1,500 and 2,500 meters above sea level.
The Presidium was established to bring greater attention to the issues of free grazing, the percentage of grasses and flowering species on which the herds feed, animal welfare and the importance of protecting the mountain pastures and milk microbiological biodiversity. The Presidium represents a desire to raise the bar compared to the already-virtuous specifications of the PDO, and to recognize those farmers who are passionately committed to their challenging work.
Brescian municipalities within the Val Camonica and Sebino mountain communities, Brescia province, Lombardy region
Presidium Silter is made when the cows graze, from about April to November. The cheese must be aged for a minimum of 5 months, but this aging period can be extended for several years with excellent results.
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