La Villa

La Villa

The new wave—organic farmstead cheese from south of Parma

About half an hour due south of the city of Parma, the La Villa (in Italian you pronounce the “ll”s) farm is one of the most interesting new developments in the Parmigiano-Reggiano world. It is a look at what progressive cheesemaking can do to take things to the next level. If you want a wholescale sense of what creative disruption can achieve, this is probably the place to go. Or at least, the cheese to eat!

La Villa is a beautiful farm located up in the mountains, just to the southwest of the village of Urzano. It’s at about 530 meters above sea level (130 meters higher up even than Borgotaro). La Villa is owned and run by two families, the Carburri and the Folezzani. Carlo Carburri serves as both the farmer and the cheesemaker, and is doing wonderful work in both roles. The farm and everything about it is organic. He grows all of the crops, which are turned into the feed for the cows, and every day he mills his own mix of barley, corn, oats, and bran for the herd. In 2011 he eliminated all of the soy from his fields and hence from the cows’ diet—the only person in the Parmigiano-Reggiano world, he says, who’s done that. He mixes sea salt from Cervia (on the east coast of the region of Emilia-Romagna) into the cows’ feed in order to add natural minerals to their diet. Carlo built his own mill to process all the grains for the animals, so that his cows are getting freshly milled grain every day. Eating the grains so close to milling means less oxidation and more flavor, which in turn leads to better milk quality.

La Villa is a very small farm. Carlo and his brother have only a couple employees. He has about 300 heads of cattle, 180 of which were being milked when we visited in the spring, a mix of brown and red cows. He’s one of the few Parmigiano-Reggiano producers who lets the animals out in the fields. The day we were there they were literally frolicking on the hillsides in the sun! If you were a dairy cow looking for work, La Villa seems like a fun place to apply for a job. The care with which Carlo works with the animals and the feeding has resulted in small yields of very high-quality milk. He uses all gravity feeds for moving the milk—pumping is more efficient but can damage the milk globules. He also salts very lightly—the cheese is in the brine solution for three or four days less than many of the producers’ (20 instead of 22 or 24).

The oldest cheese he had when we were there was 18 months and so what we’ll be getting was held especially for us to get it to the 24-month mark. The cheese was a bit young when we were there so it’s hard to give great flavor assessment, but it seemed to have really good potential. It’s sort of like drafting a 17-year old in the NBA draft—it’s hard to judge what will happen but the upside is very high if it works out well. His quality has been consistently high—out of his last 600 wheels he told us, none have failed the Consorzio’s tests.

The flavor of the La Villa cheese is bright, more buttery than the others, perhaps with a bit more moisture and a hint of an almost gouda-like character. Carlo has very limited amounts of cheese—only 4 to 6 wheels produced a day. Really, he already sells all he makes so we’re lucky to get our hands on a few wheels. La Villa, of course, means “the home,” or “country home”—and this small progressive caseificio is really very much the home of Parmigiano-Reggiano for the 21st century. Every bite is a positive piece of a better future!