by Azure (The one who loves Brocciu)
Let’s start here…
This story actually starts a long time ago on our fourth day on Corsica. We would go to the little market next to the Convent when we were staying in the convent. The woman there had a basket of treats, little doughnut holes filled with cheese. She would give one to me every time we went in. One day, there were pots of cheese sitting out on the table. The woman told us that the cheese was what was in the doughnuts. Underestimating my powers of cheese consumption, we asked the other client if she would split one with us. She said yes, we got a half pot of cheese and my world has never been the same since.
These are some early photos of Brocciu
After finishing the pot in less than a day, I set my sights on finding a supplier in the Seattle area. How little I knew back then. I called it cheese and wondered who imported it. I stuck my mom with the task, since she can find anything anywhere at anytime. But, to my horror, she emailed me only a link to what brocciu is. There was a link to buy it, but of course it came up empty.
No worries at this point as we saw brocciu product abound up and down the coast. There were the doughnuts at the street markets and in every specialty store. Brocciu pots were available at any supermarket or corner shop. No problems. Not until we got north to Ota that I started to sense a lacking. Sometimes the markets were sold out of pots and often times you didn’t see any doughnuts in baskets. I started thinking about a life without brocciu.
But perhaps I am getting ahead of myself here. What exactly is brocciu and why is it so amazing. Well, it is a light cream product, apparently you can’t call it cheese, it is not referred to as cheese. It is apparently lactose free and, in the state that I love, fresh. It cannot be imported, since it must be eaten in 3-4 days. It goes well with sweet things and is most often used in deserts. It tastes like…
So when Mike and I arrived on Cap Corse (the very top of the island) for the last leg of our journey, I was starting to think only of how to learn how to make brocciu. The Cap ended up being a barren place. It was dramatic, which Mike loved, steep and wild and the winds were so strong that we were told you couldn’t grow crops because the wind takes all the moisture away. We would drive for miles and miles and see no sign of anything except the Maquis.
When we arrived at our hotel in the Community of Centuri, we headed to town to get some groceries. We had 4 days left on the island and as we sat in the harbor having a snack of brocciu, myrte jam and bread, I told Mike that I wanted to get going south again. He was saddened by this idea because he loved the Cap the most of all the places on Corsica. I told him, I have to go south, I must find out how to make brocciu.
At that very instant, he got up and walked in to the small market on the pier. I didn’t know what he was doing, but when we came out he said, we must ask in the town how to make brocciu. The journey had begun.
There was no one in town at that point, so we decided to go on a drive up the hill to the next town. Orche it was called, but it was so small that we didn’t even know where we were. On the one main street that stretched an entire half block, 5 old ladies stood outside the mayors office. We stopped the scooter and got off. One last reality check happened when Mike said to me, is this weird? I said I don’t know, is it? Probably, he said. But we both walked over to the women without saying another word.
“Hello, do you know anyone who has sheep?” he asked.
The women just looked at him for a moment.
“I’m sorry, I have a strange question. We are trying to learn how to make the cheese, brocciu and I was wondering if you knew anyone who knows how.”
At this the women started to laugh, but of course they know someone. “You go up the road to the next town. Ask for Madame Alberitini.”
“How many minutes is it? How will we find her?” Mike asked.
“Oh not far, just ask for her in the town.”
We drove on, up the hill to Ersa. We drove through Ersa without seeing a sign of life anywhere. Outside the town somewhere we saw two men by the side of the road. “We are looking for Madame Albertini,” Mike said.
“Which one, there are many.” Of course in these towns the families stay close to home. We have learned this about Corsican villages. The town cemeteries are filled with three or four names only.
“Maybe she makes sheep’s cheese,” Mike replied.
“Ah yes, go back into town. When you see the big hotel on your right, her house is the next on your left.”
We drove back into town and parked in front of the home across the street from hotel. We walked up the narrow passage between the home and the wall and into a dark alleyway. In front of us was an open door and a man inside, probably 70 years old funneling wet cheese into containers. “Are you making brocciu?” we asked.
“No,” he said, “My wife makes the brocciu. It is very difficult. I don’t know how.”
“We are looking for Madame Albertini, is that your wife?”
“Yes, how did you know to ask here?”
“Some women near Centuri told us to come here. We want to learn how to make brocciu.”
“My wife does not make it everyday, but when she does, she starts at 5 in the morning.”
“Will she make it tomorrow?” we asked.
“I don’t think so, but ask my cousin. He lives one town over.”
“How will we find him?” we asked.
“You drive up the road, you will come to a fork, do not go toward town, take the other road. You will come to a fountain, across from the fountain, there will be a barn. He will be in the barn.”
“And what is his name?” we asked.
“Thank you, Roger”
It was getting late, maybe 5:30pm and the sun had set over the crest of the hill. I doubted that Philippe would be at the barn so late, but we had come so far, we had to keep looking.
At first we took the wrong fork, backtracked and found the fountain. Across from it was a barn and we parked the scooter and walked to the barn. Mike knocked on the glass and waved when he saw life inside. A man came to the door wearing among other things, a camo hat and combat boots. He had thick black eyebrows and was not a man that you would mess with.
Inside the barn there were probably 50 goats. We asked about the brocciu and the brebis (sheep). He asked if I had sheep and I said no. I have 2 goats, but they are both men, so no goat milk either. He was confused. We were confused. We kept asking about sheep and he kept asking about things we didn’t understand. After 10 minutes of yelling above the noises of goats being milked, we were told to come back at 3pm the next day to watch him make the brocciu. More directions, this time ones we didn’t have confidence in, so he offered to take us there that night to show us how to get there at least…
Philippe speaks in sentence fragments. He talks loud and says things we don’t understand. When we were following his car, I asked Mike if we were doing something that night. Were we making cheese with him. Mike said, he would not be surprised if we made cheese, nor would he be surprised if we didn’t. No one could say what Philippe had been talking about. All we knew is that we were following him to a place we would return the next day to make cheese.
As it turned out, we did make cheese that night. It was pitch black by this point, but we were at ground zero for goat cheese production and we weren’t leaving until he kicked us out. Mike took photos, I giggled a lot. It was a good time. We rode back in darkness. It was calm at least and a peaceful ride over the pass.
The next afternoon we drove the 30 minute ride to Philippe’s house, which was also where he made the cheese and brocciu. When we got there, he and his wife had a pot already going. Monique was much easier to understand. She was patient with us and answered questions directly. She was really understanding and interesting. We liked he a lot and got a lot of what we know about cheese making and brocciu from her even though the cheese blood is in Philippe’s family. He has been doing this since he was 16 years old.
After two hours of stirring, measuring the temperature, waiting, and stirring some more, the brocciu “arrived.” They said it would smell like cake right before it was ready and it did. It was sweet and floated to the surface for the picking. Philippe skimmed the top and plucked the brocciu out of the “petite lait.” He put them in the little tubs and I got to eat one hot out of the pot. It was heaven.
When we had finished making the brocciu, he invited us into his house for coffee and more brocciu. Ok, you’ll have to imagine this, since I didn’t want to photograph inside his house much…you put brocciu in a bowl and pour hot coffee and sugar on it. OMG. Mike was poured a taste of some Myrte liquor from the maquis, which is now our new obsession and shown Philippe’s display of guns. He took us out to another shed and we got some other surprises.
When we got on the scooter to go home, it was 8:30 at night. It was black out and the wind was strong. When we drove over the pass, the wind would move the scooter around like it was paper. It took us 55 minutes to drive what took us 30 minutes during the day. Mike rode with his feet touching the pavement the whole time and I learned how much I truly trust him. It might have been my best day on the island because I can now go away knowing that I can find brocciu again even if I have to make it myself.