What I love so much about Irpinia is how hyperlocal just about everything is. From soil to vines to foods and dishes that change not just from village to village, but from step to step. The vineyards of Irpinia provide a great example of this, but so does one particular sheep's milk cheese you've probably never heard of: Carmasciano.
The underground cold bubbling sulfur volcano, Mefite, infuses the grasses of the surrounding areas and that's where our story of Carmasciano begins.
Everything you need to know about the amazingly delicious Carmasciano cheese:
The Fundamentals Only within a 2km radius of this stinking, bubbling volcano can can the sheep’s milk Carmasciano cheeses be made. That's only about 1.2 miles in each direction! Because of Mefite, the soil in the surrounding grasses where sheep graze is off the charts in minerality. That's how the sheep's milk becomes infused with a unique flavor that is the signature of the cheeses that follow.
Taste Profiles Most often you’ll find Carmasciano cheese in the traditional round form of a hard cheese that can be aged anywhere from 2 months to 6+ years. Cutting into the round and extracting a wedge of hard carmasciando cheese, the unique and inviting smell is immediate. It’s grassy but with a twinge of something sharp and intriguing. It’s different than anything you’ve smelled before. And you want to try it. You can also find this made into a mouthwatering ricotta. Needless to say, it pairs perfectly with Irpinia red and white wines.
More on Mefite This underground sulfur volcano was also part of an ancient Irpinia witch trail as I’ve been told, where those inhabitants of centuries past claimed this bubbling sulfur was *actually* a gate to hell. Why? Because early settlers in this land would go down to the volcano and just die in proximity to the grey bubbling liquid. Turns out if you’re down in the crater that houses this natural wonder and the wind isn’t blowing at all or in the right direction, you’ll die from the noxious fumes. There are a good number of preserved, mummified animal carcasses scattered all around the area, so it’s not hard to imagine why “the gate to hell” was quickly adopted by pretty much everyone for this area.
Anything else? The sulphurous clay from Mefite has incredible healing properties and will make your skin baby soft. You can go explore the bubbling volcano with the help of a guide, most often Raffele L'Osco, who carries on traditions of early settlers of the area. And yes, I'm working on getting these cheeses into the states. For now, you'll just have to come visit.