This is a simple story, written by men and women of a Romagna that still exist, behind an embankment, beyond a row of vineyards, when the scent of a mulberry tree slips gently and takes you into the silence of a slow morning warm.
I remember these days when I was a little girl. The countryside was a place full of sounds, smells (not always pleasant) and creatures to observe. Very tall strands of grass, flat white and foul-smelling flowers, white and dusty roads with sharp pebbles that splashed and rolled me on my torn knees.
An inexorable beauty that has accompanied me since then and in which I find refuge.
The beasts, this is what oxen are called in Romagna. The onomatopoeic sound of the word in dialect, al bestie, is so powerful that it is already possible to imagine a mythological animal, powerful but not ferocious, tireless and stubborn, but so beautiful that it deserves a special event, dedicated to enhancing its magnificence.
The Romagna cattle breed, after having been forgotten for years, almost to reject a past of fatigue and poverty, has found a place for a few years, thanks to a slender girl and her four dogs, Lisa.
But the story I am telling you today speaks of a farmer, Luigi, of his farm and his 200 cows.
Emilia Romagna country and my meeting with the cows
Luigi was born in the countryside and like all children, he grew up in fields of hay, animals and a river. The Santerno passes right by the village, San Bernardino di Lugo. A small town made up of four houses and lots of sandy lands, torn from water centuries ago.
Here, water has not always been a faithful friend. Once this area was what everyone wanted to escape from: stagnant water, mosquitoes, fishing and little else.
The Delta del Po ‘park is a few kilometers away and the calls of the many birds that have chosen the Piallassa Baiona as a refuge, also resonate here in the clear mornings.
In these so-called depressed areas, having a cow is a blessing. It means one meal a day and some money that comes from the sale of milk and cheese.
Luigi grows within the Romagna peasant culture, with a hard head, passion and hard work.
And with him, the cows grow too: ten for accuracy. The work is heavy but he is tireless. Like anyone in Romagna, he knows that his livelihood and that of his family, which in the meantime has grown, derives from his work. It comes from the land.
The field also feeds its cows. Hay and straw arrive directly from the fields. There is no need to buy them. It would be wasted money. A few hectares of land that grow over the years thanks to his son Sauro and his daughter-in-law, Bruna.
Wheat, fruit, and cows: it takes little to be happy. And so also Mirco and Fabio, the third generation of Baroncini, grow up.
It is known that second generations destroy what they inherit from their fathers. Lack of aptitude for work, passion, and hunger. The one that drives you to fight every day. Because you don’t have the certainty of the next day.
And instead, Mirco and Fabio decide to walk the path of grandfather Luigi and father Sauro. But in their own way. They are young, they know that the times of the grandfather, those in which it was enough to go to the market of the country to sell milk and cheese, no longer exist.
The cows, slowly, become 200. Mirco and Fabio choose the Friesian breed, produces a lot of milk and is easy to breed.
But this is not just Luigi’s story, it is also the story of Pamela, Mirco’s wife.
Handmade cheese and fresh ice cream: how to enjoy a day in Emilia Romagna
The meeting together with the SlowBike Tour group, with whom I am exploring this part of Romagna.
A small, young woman. A mother but also a visionary entrepreneur. Over the years, she has been responsible for some projects that have transformed the company into an example for the territory.
She who welcomes us and accompanies us with pride to see the stable. A large indoor space, without bars, where cows roam freely, intent on eating, caring for their newborn babies, or having a conversation in their own way.
Pamela also created the new company name, Il Buon Latte (Good Milk), a real brand that over the years has become a pleasant habit for all those who live in the area. Buon Latte is found fresh in the various distributors positioned in some of the small towns of the Lower Romagna region. Just bring your own bottle and the milk comes out fresh as if it had been milked a few minutes before.
It seems strange to talk of happiness thinking of these cute animals, placid and absorbed in their daily rumination, the only thing that basically counts. And yet, the whole farm is almost tailor-made for them. Spaces covered without barriers where you can walk freely to stretch your legs, a high comfortable straw bed to sleep on and milking stations to access easily.
Hay and straw come from the farm’s cultivated fields and even what the cows eat come from the fields. Pamela is proud of this choice. The milk that she produces is completely organic, as are the other products that are on display in the small shop that is right in front of the old farmhouse.
Fresh cheeses such as squacquerone and raviggiolo, soft and sweet ricotta and ice cream, this too is an idea of Pamela dedicated to her children, but also to all the other children of the town.
The building right next to it hides another secret. It was the old stable, says Pamela, we thought it could be recovered. Here are all the tools and objects that grandfather used at home and for work. A small concentration of micro stories, because each of those objects is part of a story, that of the people of Romagna. All objects can be touched and some still work.
Such as the small stone mill, heavy and hard. I have to put all my strength to make it work and I think of fatigue, the one that almost nobody does now anymore because maybe it is no longer fashionable to do the work, and you are a bit ashamed. Getting your hands dirty is something to hide.
We have just enough time to take a break in the store. Pamela has created a line of ice cream made with fresh milk. And they are really good!
It’s time to move on to another destination, Romagna is too big to stop!
Disclosure: This tour is a part of Slow Bike Tourism itineraries. If you want to visit Emilia Romagna by bike, please check www.slowbiketourism.com
A big thank to Pamela and to her lovely children. If you want to visit Il Buon Latte, please contact her here: Il Buon Latte