Provolone del Monaco: precious treasure of the lattari mountains

by Yuri Buono

How many times have we heard of the famous provolone del monaco? Well, even in this case, the history of the city of Naples is strongly linked to that of its province and to the "good things" it is able to offer.

The history of provolone del monaco is closely linked to the farmers of Vomero. At one time, this area of Naples had a strong agricultural vocation, but starting from 1700 the "living space" began to decrease, thanks to the urbanization of the area. In those years, Naples was the most populous city in Italy and second in Europe, only after Paris. It was for this reason that many families were forced to move, to look for new land to cultivate and larger spaces to be able to raise their animals.

Il Provolone del Monaco: tesoro prezioso dei monti lattari
A close-up of Provolone del Monaco - Photo by Umberto Astarita

The Lattari Mountains

The chosen area was that of the Lattari Mountains and it was precisely here that this “innovative” spun paste “took shape”, produced with the milk of native cows reared in the green pastures of a truly uncontaminated area. The Lattari Mountains, or rather, the mountainous ridge, almost fifteen hundred meters high, which separates the Sele plain from that of the Agro-Nocerino-Sarnese area and more generally acts as a diaphragm between the Gulf of Naples and that of Salerno. Certainly, the first written attestation dates back to the second century AD, when Galen praised the wholesomeness of milk from the heights of Stabia.

It is probable, therefore, that in ancient times, the "Lattaro" referred to an undulating shelf between the areas of Castellammare, Gragnano, Agerola and Pimonte and that only in more recent times has then embraced a much wider ridge, from Cava de 'Tirreni to Punta della Campanella, acting as the hinterland to the Amalfi Coast and the Sorrento Peninsula. It is from here that this caciocavallo, with its extraordinary flavor, started out to find a market in Naples, both for the goodness of the product and for the greater economic possibilities that existed in the city.

Why was it called "del monaco"?

But why did it go down in history with the nickname of "monk"? Well, it all started with the garment worn by shepherds for whom the best way to reach Naples was by sea; a long and tiring journey that began in the middle of the night, when the provolons, transported by mules to the beaches, were loaded onto rowboats.

On cold and icy nights, the dairymen-traders, to protect themselves from humidity, used to cover their bodies, and even their heads, with a large cloak similar to the habit worn by monks. Once they arrived in Naples, with the passage of time, for the playful Neapolitan dockers no longer landed a dairyman or a shepherd, but simply "'o monaco".

A bit of history…

Historically, the breeding of cattle in the whole area of the Lattari Mountains dates back to 264 BC, a time when the Picentini, the first inhabitants of these mountains, were deported from the Marches, following the defeat against the Romans. That of the Picentini was a people dedicated for some time to pastoralism and dairy production and it was precisely for the exceptional production and the quality of the milk of their herds that the mountains were called «Lactaria Montes".

It must be said, however, for the sake of completeness of the sources, that another theory of the geomorphologist Aldo Cinque would trace the etymology of Lattari back to the term "tin", which means "flat and regular surface", referring to the horizontal and gently sloping shelves that are often found along the course of Lattari Mountains.

As well as it is good to reiterate that despite the dairy skills of the Picentini, something similar to the monk's provolone was never produced. The reason is quickly explained: the work of the Bourbons was decisive, who favored the genetic improvement of the breeds raised through cross breeding with excellent results.

In particular, the painstaking work of the soldier of fortune should be mentioned Avitabile that, through the crossbreeds of mestizos of Alpine Brown e Podolica with the Jersey breed, came to obtain specimens of a new breed: the Agerolese. The detailed report dates back to 1909, drawn up by dr. I give up, but it was presented to the Ministry and the Agerola cow was officially recognized only in 1952.

The DOP brand

In 2010 Provolone del Monaco became a product of DOP mark (Protected Designation of Origin) and can only be processed in a specific area and obtained only from the milk of well-determined cows. Its shape must be like that of a slightly elongated melon, without the classic "head" typical of other products, with a minimum weight of 2.5 kg and a maximum of 8 kg. Raffia ties are used for the support in pairs that divide the provolone del monaco into a minimum of six sides.

Its texture turns to a yellowish color and must be elastic and compact, with very small and typical "partridge's eye" holes, while its taste starts out sweet, but also retains pleasant spicy traits that will be felt more with the passage of time, starting from a minimum of six months of seasoning.

The production area is limited to the following municipalities: Agerola, Casola di Napoli, Castellammare di Stabia, Gragnano, Lettere, Massa Lubrense, Meta, Piano di Sorrento, Pimonte, Sant'Agnello, Sorrento, Santa Maria La Carità and Vico Equense, while the milk must come from cattle for at least 20% of native Agerolese breed and for the remaining 80% from cattle of different breeds (mainly Friesian, Alpine brown, red spotted, jersey and podolica) reared exclusively in the municipalities falling within the PDO.

A conferma della volontà di tutelare ancor di più la qualità di tale prodotto è stato creato anche un “Consorzio di Tutela del Provolone del Monaco D.O.P.”, riconosciuto dal Ministero delle Politiche Agricole e Forestali con un Decreto Ministeriale del 21 febbraio 2011 e con sede a Vico Equense.

Ad oggi, il provolone del monaco resta uno dei formaggi più saporiti della nostra regione e che da sempre divide i grandi chef per il suo utilizzo nei famosi spaghetti alla Nerano; un provolone la cui produzione si “intreccia” lungo secoli di storia e che ci regala davvero qualcosa di prezioso.

Bibliography:

“Gastronomic guide of Vico Equense. Provolone del monaco ”by Francesco Aiello - 2007

“Parco dei Monti Lattari. Sorrento and Amalfi coast. The guides to flavors and pleasures ”- 2021

Sitography:

https://thinkmilkbesmart.eu/provolone-del-monaco-dop/

For the photos we thank Umberto Astarita

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2 Comments

RAFFAELE DI LUCA 4 October 2022 - 10:17

ESSENDO NAPOLETANO È RESIDENTE A TORINO MI AVETE RIEMPITO IL CUORE DI GIOIA ESSERS AL CORRENTE DI QUESTE STORIE CAMPANE E POI COMMENTATE DA UN MIO GRANDE NIPOTE LEGGERÒ CON MOLTO ENTUSIASMO I COMMENTI STORICI DA QUESTO GRANDE UOMO

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Raffaele La Mura 4 October 2022 - 23:22

É un onore un privilegio ed una gioia che una persona stupenda continua a tramandare la straordinaria storia del nostro paese…. Sei un grande Yuri

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