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Ancient craft revived. Monks of the Valaam Monastery learn to produce elite types of cheese

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Prior to the Revolution, the Monastery was totally self-sufficient and, moreover, was considered the biggest agricultural center of Russia’s north. But with time it became ineffective. It was only in the end of 1990s that its household was restored. In the fall, its monks went to Italy to learn the art of cheese-making. Now Italians paid a visit back. Alexander Burenin learnt of their assessment and tried the Valaam cheese.

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Mozzarella, Ricotta and other types of cheese. With every day, the quality improves. The work is well-coordinated. While our interviewee skillfully juggles cheese frames, his colleagues nearby are finishing the thrusting, while others are cooking the product using a special pressing machine. The equipment is foreign, but the hands are local. The Valaam monks went to study in Italy. And now Italians have come to the island to see how their knowledge is used in practice.

Gianni Sfodgia: “Only those who learn on their own mistakes can master a skill. Of course, there had been mistakes – both in cutting the cheese bundle and temperature control – but they are making conclusions”

The Valaam farm is more than 200 years old. The reconstruction is fully underway. Italians say that quality cheese making doesn’t only require modern equipment in the kitchen,

Alexander Burenin, reporter: “According to Italians, half of cheese making success lays within milk. That’s why cows here are treated with especial care. They eat three times a day – hay and feed stuff in abundance – and are being milked three times too, strictly on schedule. Even in such luxurious conditions, these cows are sometimes naughty and produce less milk”.

Animals are being cared for 24/7. This schedule creates room for laziness – you head out for a lunch, and a sophisticated machine brings the need portion of hay. Even if this doesn’t help to improve their moods, the farm’s workers have special secrets of individual conversations with the cows.

Most of the animals love such treatment – both young and old. Two calves – Ataman and Yashma – show tenderness while they are being milked. All in all, the path from milk to cheese takes a few months. The Valaam has created its own type of cheese – Monastiko, or a Monasterian, made in accordance with secret Italian recipes. They’re not working to sell numbers, but to spread it between pilgrims and residents of the island. Although, the patron from abroad is sure – such quality produce would easily make it into any European market.

The recipes are Italian, but the style is Russian. You won’t see such a scene at a farm anywhere abroad. While cows are chewing on the ecologically clean Valaam grass, a monk is playing a flute tune to them. It’s a surreal picture for those who are used to the bustle of a big city.

The technology of cheese making, or its basics, has been mastered at the island, but the Italians say this is not a technological process but an art. In order to master it, you have to make cheese all your life – and still fail to know some of the secrets. The Valaam cheese makers will have to remember – this is only the first step of the long way.

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