The Old Dairy

Dairy Cow, Alpe Orighera, Valsassina, Italy


The walk from Pian delle Betulle, in Alta Valsassina, to the Larice Bruciato (burnt larch)  is a lovely trail through a beech forest and pasturelands. On the way there is the Alpe Ortighera, a summer pasture, where there is the old dairy illustrated in this post.

Milk churn and racks of maturing cheeses, Pian delle Betulle, Italy

This is the main room at the entrance of the dairy with the churning machine to make butter (the stainless steel drum on the right) and some of the season production of ricotta, a whey cheese. The forms on the shelves are left to dry in the airy room until they reach different degrees of hardness, depending if the ricotta is to be eaten sliced or grated for cooking.

Milk pans, Pian delle Betulle, Italy

This is the room where the fresh milk is left in copper pans sitting in a stream of cold water to allow the cream to float to the surface. The cream will then be removed and placed in the churning machine to make butter.

Milk Churn, Pian delle Betulle, Italy

This is the butter churn, to be connected to a hose filling the drum with cold water from the local spring. The electrical engine will turn the drum till the butter is ready and separated from the buttermilk.

Traditional Milk Cauldron, Alpe Orighera, Valsassina, Italy


In one of the corners of the main room there is the fireplace with the hook for the gigantic copper paiolo (cauldron) in which the milk is warmed up and mixed with rennet to make cheese. The whey is a by-product of this process, which is then cooked at a near-boiling temperature to make ricotta (which literally translates as “re-cooked”). The outside of the paiolo is crusted from soot from wood fire, but the inside is spotlessly clean.

Racks of maturing cheeses, Pian delle Betulle, Italy

These are the last batch of cheeses maturing on wooden shelves in a back room with more controlled humidity and air flow.

This is not a museum or a re-enactment of an old fashion dairy. It is an actual business with three partners (one is a young chap only about 20 years old). They run the winter/spring dairy down in the valley (producing Taleggio), while the summer pastures are kept nearby Pian delle Betulle in Alpe Ortighera (1500m). Every year from June to September they take the herd of about 50 cows up to the malga, where we found them making the cheese. This is still an old altitude transhumance pattern probably established in most European mountain during the late Neolithic period (more than 5000 years ago) and that it is still very common today.

In summer they sell freshly made and aged ricotta and cheeses. To reach the dairy you can take the cable car from Margno and the malga is a short 20 minute walk following the hiking signs for Alpe Ortighera.

All images were taken (in near darkness…) with the Ricoh GR and Canon 5D with 50mm lens.

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