top of page

Pratomagno goat cheese, Tuscany

goat cheese from the Pratomagno, Tuscany
Sandro's fresh white goat cheese with the aged version on top

Just one bite of Sandro Baratella’s marvelous Pratomagno goat cheese will be enough to convince you that there must be some very happy and healthy goats providing the milk because only from top quality milk can cheese this good be made.

Sandro Baratella and his goats in Gualdo in the Pratomagno
Sandro knows each of his goats by name

We spend many summer weekends every year high up on the Pratomagno massif east of Florence in order to escape the stifling Tuscan heat and this excellent goat cheese has become a staple feature of our alfresco summer lunches.

Goats in the Pratomagno, Tuscany
Sandro's goats in their grazing habitat watched over by a shepherd

Sandro’s smallholding is in the tiny hamlet of Gualdo, a picturesque mountain village in the comune of Pratovecchio at close to 3,000 feet of elevation. It's a dead-end road so there is no reason to turn off the main highway from Florence unless you’re either seeking out Sandro or visiting the surprisingly good little pizza restaurant hidden away at the far end of the village called La Lanterna Di Lunghi Giuseppina (which by the way has the lowest profile of any restaurant I've ever come across because they have no internet presence at all).

Gualdo also sits astride the long hiking trail '00' that goes south to Monte Secchieta and traverses the entire ridge line of the Pratomagno through the highest point at La Croce del Pratomagno before descending all the way to the Arno a few miles north of Arezzo. It also coincides with the Spiritual Trail named after Saint Francis of Assisi that connects Florence to the Sanctuary of La Verna where Saint Francis received the stigmata in 1224.

Map of the Pratomagno
Gualdo is just left of center in the middle of the map, directly above the Passo della Consuma on highway 70

The quiet upland pastures of Gualdo are ideal terrain for goats and perhaps better than sheep they can thrive year round, even through the cold winters of the northern Apennines, given a good supply of hay and a barn for shelter.

Sandro Baratella's goats in Gualdo
Heading back to the barn before milking after a day of grazing

Sandro sells his cheese door-to-door in the immediate vicinity of Gualdo so this year was in fact our first visit to his place of business and a chance for us to take a look at his 70 strong herd of goats.

Sandro Baratella with his goats in Gualdo

Sandro does not have a background in either animal husbandry or cheese production, instead this was a deliberate lifestyle choice that he made in 2017 and six years later he has no regrets and in fact is currently extending and improving his production facility.

He seems particularly well-suited to a simple country life and has found a partner in Nataliya who shares his philosophy as well as sharing the workload.

However a simple life does not equate to an easy life when livestock are involved because there are no holidays when your goats require milking twice a day and also the higher elevations of the Pratomagno can be a very inhospitable place during the long winters with plenty of fog, rain, snow and below freezing temperatures. But it’s a place he sought out after much research and it clearly suits him and serves his purpose well.

Sandro Baratella's goats in Gualdo, Pratovecchio
A very angelic looking goat preening herself for the camera

Luckily in the Pratomagno there are fewer natural predators than in many other mountainous regions of Italy. Though wolves are present here they are too thin in numbers to hunt in packs and bears don’t exist in Tuscany. The biggest dangers for the herd are getting lost in the fog or succumbing to infections or diseases from extended exposure to very wet and cold conditions.

Sandro's male goat in the barn
One of the two male goats or 'bucks' in the herd

Even though consumers today are more aware of organic and sustainable farming practices there is often less attention paid to the actual source of the food sold in supermarkets with the natural inclination being to trust the labeling or the regulations or even the supermarket itself, but everything for sale has a profit motive behind it so sometimes it’s a good thing to visit a food vendor and see for oneself the condition in which animals are kept and observe their general demeanor.

Sandro sources cereals and other winter fodder for his animals from local farmers and prefers to administer homeopathic remedies to his goats for any illnesses that may occur.

Sandro's goats in the barn in Gualdo, Pratovecchio

Perhaps goats are just naturally clean animals but standing in their midst I was struck by the complete lack of animal odors in the barn, which of course is their toilet as well as their place of rest. They all seemed very good-natured to each other and also to the five strangers walking among them and were incredibly affectionate creatures.

I am quite ignorant about goats and so it was not quite what I was expecting but clearly this is a very content and well cared for herd and not at all like the ragged looking ones that surrounded our car on a road in Sicily many years ago.

Sandro Baratella's kid goats
Elena with some very affectionate 'kid' goats

France of course is the country with the biggest goat cheese production and having spent weeks cycling through Provence and the Alpes-de-Hautes-Provence 20 years ago I don’t remember chevre tasting this good but perhaps I never came across a true artisanal cheese like Sandro’s or perhaps the cheeses were all a little too young and soft for my palate.

There are 3,000 goat cheese producers in France and apparently the average size herd for a farm that produces its own cheese is about 70 goats so Sandro fits the French profile exactly. The number is considerably larger for a farm that only sells its milk instead of also producing the cheese.

Sandro also follows the typical French method of cheese production where a starter culture is added to the raw fresh milk and rennet begins the gradual coagulation of the milk over one or two days. The addition of penicillium candidum produces the white surface bloom on the cheese and keeps other harmful bacteria at bay. The curds are then ladled into molds to create the desired shape and as it drains and dries the remaining whey is removed and salt added.

maturing goat cheese

The cheese is then firm enough to be removed from the mould and placed in a fridge cooled (or perhaps heated in winter) to around 10°C to mature for 3-4 weeks or even a little longer outside at ambient temperature.

Sandro makes 3 cheeses currently reflecting different aging periods and is experimenting with a blue cheese version. There is a very noticeable difference between his fresh young cheese, that to me is the perfect lunchtime cheese, and the aged version with its more complex flavors that needs no accompaniment other than good bread.

Azienda Agricola Poppa is the trading name of Sandro's small enterprise and he is planning to develop online sales capability in the near future given the remoteness of his mountain location.

the Pratomagno near Gualdo
The view from Gualdo looking towards the saddle below Consuma


bottom of page