Saturday, April 18, 2015

Chamois of the Alps in Chianti

On Goats and Cheese at 
Podere Le Fornaci

first glimpse of Podere Le Fornaci from a cypress-lined avenue which leads to Villa Calcinaia and Podere Le Fornaci
Since the year 2000, 30 hectares of farmland just north of Greve in Chianti have been home to an increasingly large herd of chamois goats. 
the podere (Tuscan name for farm) with its goat huts below the hills

the farm from near the river flats where a large basin (right) has been created to collect floodwater from the Greve river; otherwise it is used for grazing

the younger of the only two billy goats at the farm; the beard and the thicker horns are the giveaway. This individual is one year old; his name is Canederlo; the older one is called Elvis

The chamois is an attractive species of goat-antelope with short straight horns which curl back at the tip; rich brown in summer, grey in winter with characteristic markings, notably a distinctive black stripe down the spine. The chamois is native to mountainous areas from the Pyrenees to the Caucasus and many are protected.* The breed at Podere Le Fornaci is Swiss in origin.
this kid was left behind temporarily when the rest of the herd was led to pasture; the bleating can be quite ear-piercing!
Those to be found at Podere Le Fornaci, on open, sloping pastures beside the river Greve, are protected, loved and cared for with extraordinary kindness and consideration. Fed only on organic fodder (grown on the farm or brought in), cured for the most part with homeopathic remedies, allowed to browse outdoors as much as possible, the chamois goats of Podere Le Fornaci must be amongst the luckiest of their kind in captivity.
a stampede towards new pasture

The herd at the Podere resembles a wild herd in that it has roughly 100 individuals, the vast majority being female. Only the two most promising males are rewarded with a large female cohort to inseminate. In nature this selection takes place through fighting and exile; on the farm it is the farmers who decide. Male kids are given away and some are slaughtered for meat in spring, but their keepers do not breed for meat. It is milk they are interested in.
 Lucerne (alfalfa) for breakfast, hay for lunch, fresh pasture for the rest of the day, cereals for the kids and treats during milking: the goats are treated like princesses and their milk is consequently of excellent quality.
the stalls impressed for their cleanliness and lack of smell; usually goats are pretty smelly creatures; a thick layer of hay covered the floor, springy to walk on
special compressed high energy organic treats provided as a snack during milking
kids enjoying their hay; there are several feeders like this and larger around the farm

the kids' extra special feed: cornflakes and carob
Milking takes place twice a day and although by law it has to be done by machine, the system seems extremely humane. While they are milked on a platform the nanny goats are fed a snack which they adore (see above). Many are willing to be relieved of their burden while the more restless ones are distracted by this treat.
the milking equipment: eight goats at a time on the platform, four milked at once, it takes about two hours to milk all the nanny goats
our guide Lea on the milking platform, explaining the use of the special cereal pellets

the board above the platform with daily notes about individual goats for those involved in the milking process
 The milk (an average of 2 and a half litres per day per goat) is transported in a refrigerated container down to the caciaia or dairy twice a day.
But before we go down to the caciaia ourselves to observe the cheese-making, a further word about the goats.
Lea, our gentle, enthusiastic guide, explained that not only do all mature goats have names but their names are known to almost everyone at the farm. The goats look pretty much the same to the unpractised eye but apparently all the nanny goats and kids (which retain their mother's name and number until they are weaned) can be distinguished one from the other. 
Candy and her kid, the day after the kid got lost in the wood and spent the night there alone

As we walked about the farm Lea told us anecdotes about several individuals, such as the newborn kid which wandered away from Candy its mother and did not return to the safety of its stalls overnight. Next day back 
 in the paddock Candy found her kid; it is a miracle that no fox or marten attacked it. 
Pulcerina, the last to follow the herd to new pasture
Or Pulcerina, the solitary nanny goat, smaller and weaker than the others, always the last to follow the herd, always alone because the highly hierarchical nature of the herd means that she is bullied and pushed about (those horns look pretty fierce), yet apparently the most intelligent. When the water supply was cut off recently she was the only one of the entire herd who went down to the river to have a drink.

The dairy is located behind the little shop in one of the old stone farm buildings. Inside, it is all stainless steel and white tiles as prescribed by regulations, but the exterior and the shop itself reflect the warmth and charm of the little community which inhabits these walls.

We don special shoe-protectors and mobcaps before entering the dairy where we wash our hands. Michele, the main cheese-maker, a bearded, friendly giant of a man, talks us through the French cheese-making process while at the same time telling us something about the people who have settled here at Podere Le Fornaci to raise goats and make cheese. Three families, comprising six adults and three children, live at the farm. They come from different backgrounds but all seem tired of city life and happy to be established in the country. Two, Matteo and Michela, are trained zoologists, Lea is a video editor and Marco is a light technician, while Michele is a chef who studied psychology.
the nanny goats' milk from today's milking in a refrigerated room; rennet has been added as well as milk enzymes and a little salt
milk from the day before which has curdled; the curds have separated from the whey; it was whiter in reality than this
the pure curds are spooned into these sieve-like moulds of several different shapes and sizes, to drain on a specially sloping stainless steel table; the whey can be used for ricotta but is mostly discarded
curds are either left plain or flavourings are added; here poppyseeds have been tossed in
Michele is pressing the flavoured curds in a muslin cloth to create a roll from which balls of curds will be pressed and patted into round moulds
We are invited to give a hand and join in spooning, pressing and patting.
the cheeses on the left are the fresh ones, only about three days old; those centre and right are at least a few weeks old and have developed an interesting, soft crust, rather like a brie crust; the smallest pieces are well-seasoned and salted and very hard; this mature cheese makes excellent 'caprigiano' or goat-parmesan

Although the cheese production relies entirely on organic raw milk (so, unpasteurised), Michele explains with some regret that the current EU regulations prevent the dairy experimenting with different cheeses which use moulds to age and assume different character; the regulations also forbid the use of their own herbs and spices, and heavily regulate the production of other by-products such as yogurt and ricotta.
The dairy also produces a quantity of pure, unpasteurized goat's milk, particularly indicated for those who are intolerant to cow's milk, since it is easier to digest. 

Last but not least we have a table waiting for us outside in the early spring sunshine, for the finale of our visit is a cheese-tasting!
table set on wooden deck in the garden for cheese-tasting under an old mulberry tree
four different types of goats' cheese, bread, honey, pear, ginger and walnut jam and a bottle of organic wine accompany the tasting
Lea keeps us company during the tasting, explaining the differences between the cheeses and advising us to try them from the most delicate to the most savoury. She continues to tell us about life at the Podere, the difficulties and pleasures of going 'back to the country', the contrasts with city life and the good relationships they have with other local farmers and producers.

the stars of the show: fresh caprino; fresh caprino with herbs (today, wild fennel: delicious!!); crosta fiorita (brie-crust) with and without herbs; fully seasoned caprino
It has been a pleasant and interesting visit; our hosts have been welcoming, informative and open about their life on the farm. 
We wish them the very best in their enterprise. 

Podere Le Fornaci cheese and milk is available at the farm between 730am and 12.30; they also take part in local organic markets and supply local restaurants with their produce.

For a guided tour and tasting, reservations must be made. English is spoken.

The podere has recently opened a small restaurant where they take reservations (preferably well ahead of time and for a minimum of six) for tasty lunches and dinners based on their cheeses and meat and other produce such as home-made pasta. All rigorously organic.
Malva the goat-dog, one of three friendly dogs at the farm
For more information and reservations, see the Podere Le Fornaci site or write to

*Considering this blog's outspoken antipathy for mid-sized agile ruminants of the family Cervidae, I have to point out that chamois goats are in fact of the family Bovidae; the two families of the infraorder Pecora split off about 28 million years ago, give or take a century.
This notwithstanding, please believe that my description above is shadowed by a quiet concern that one day we might find ourselves surrounded, not only by our current masses of marauding Cervids but also by agile, (they can jump 2m vertically into the air and over 6m distance), hardy, famished, diurnal (hence all dining rosters covered) newly-liberated Bovids, which appear to have similar tastes to their very distant cousins. 


  1. A wonderfully photoed (from first to last) and fascinating (especially for an avid lover/observer of the chamois) commercial! Particularly admired the witty epilogue.

  2. The April 18,2015, "Chamois of the Alps in Chianti",continues the excellent standard of these most interesting reports.Podere Le Fornaci,with its goats and goats' cheese production,is another special attraction of this lovely Greve in Chianti area.As usual the detailed information and photography are
    first class.Also,congratulations on winning (finally!) the Battle of the Fence.

  3. A wonderful post, well-worth re-reading. The reader is won over by the farmers (and their goats!), just as the author was. The story of Pulcerina going to the river seems the stuff of an Aesop's fable...
    This post is an inspiration to visit the Podere Le Fornaci (and sample their organic cheeses), thank you!


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