Cheese of Puglia: Making and Eating Fresh Cheese in Salento

Making Cheese in Italy


I say Italian cheese. What cheese comes to mind?  Parmigiano Regiano, mozzarella and ricotta might be three of the handful of Italian cheeses that are household names, but Italy actually makes over 200 cheeses.  Like the rest of the food products in the bel paese, cheesemaking is just as regional.

Tasting the local cheeses in Italy is a treat I enjoy in each region I visit.  Experiencing the making of some of these cheeses and tasting them, only seconds after they’ve been made, is a truly special experience.  One I got to do during my recent trip to Salento.


Luciano of Azienda Padulano in Salento
Luciano from Azienda Padulano



Ylenia and Claudia took me to Azienda Padulano in the Salento countryside, just outside of Lecce.  Luciano took us on a tour of his cheese-making facilities, where they make a variety of cow’s milk cheeses.  During our tour of the land, we saw the cow’s, lounging in the field and some being fed. We also toured the pasture and milking facilities.  As Luciano explained the entire procedure, he spoke passionately about the cows, the pasture, the milking process, and reminisced about when his grandfather made cheese. 

After our tour, we had a special cheesemaking demonstration of some of Padulano’s fresh cheeses: giuncata, primo sale and ricotta.  Giuncata and primo sale are two fresh Salentino cheeses that are similar in tastes.  Made with fresh milk curds, the primo sale (pree-moh  sah-lay) is placed in traditional cheese baskets right after the cheesemaking process, in order to drain off any excess liquid.  The giuncata (joon-kah-tah), made with the same fresh milk curds, is tightly wrapped in dried giunchi (rush branches).  This cheese, which gets its name from the giunchi in which it’s wrapped, takes on the shape of its wrapping.  



 Making Fresh Cheese in Italy

The first step in the process is to separate the milk into curds and whey.  Rennet (caglio in Italian), an enzyme coming from an animal’s stomach, (Padulano uses rennet from lambs) is added to the milk to curdle the milk and separate the curds and whey.  Heating the mixture, they stirred the milk as it separated.  They then poured the mixture through a strainer to drain off the whey. 



Primo Sale cheese

 They placed the curds into a cheese basket to let the remaining whey run out, leaving us with a dense fresh cheese.  The texture was a little firmer than cream cheese. 



 Giuncata cheese from Salento

Giuncata wrapped in Giunchi and then Being Unwrapped

For the giuncata, they placed the curds onto the dried rush leaves and wrapped it tightly, securing it with rubber bands.  Once almost all the liquid drained from the cheese, they unwrapped it from the giunchi.



 Making Ricotta

While letting both these cheeses rest, they moved onto ricotta making.  Using the whey that remained and recooking it (ricotta in Italian literally means re-cooked).  They added salt, and  a little more milk, and reheated the whey to around 85 C.  The cheesemaker told me the ending temperature depended mainly on the acidity of the milk.


Ricotta from Salento

Still slightly warm, and only seconds after it had been made, we got to taste the creamy ricotta at its freshest.


Azienda Padulano makes a wide range of cheeses, including mozzarella, burrata, provolone, and aged cheeses.  Luciano brought out a few of the aged cheeses for us to try, along with his superb yogurt.  The yogurt was all natural, so pure and creamy with just a touch of tanginess, that now I can’t eat any other yogurt. 

All these cheeses were delicious on their own. Being the pastry person that I am, I have visions of the creamy cheese dessert I’ll be making on my next trip to Salento, using some of the fresh Azienda Padulano cheese and their yogurt!


 Padulano Cheeses


Padulano Cheese and yogurt


They packaged all the freshly made cheese up for us, and it was part of our lunch at Masseria L’Astore later in the day.  During our lunch, I also tried another regional cheese, ricotta forte (meaning strong ricotta).  This sounds like an oxymoron at first.  How could something so mild and creamy be strong, right?  Well, think again.  They basically let the ricotta sour, under controlled conditions.  Leaving you with something stronger than sour cream, as stinky as the stinkiest of French cheeses, and with a sourness that can be tongue numbing and face curling, if you’re not careful. 


Ricotta Forte from Salento

Spread a VERY thin layer of ricotta forte on bread or crostini and its sourness blends nicely with the bread.  Place a whopping American-sized dollop on top of  the bread, and the cheese will have your face more twisted and contorted than a mouthful of those sour gummy candies ever could.


me in Puglia in 2013! For this food lover’s culinary tour, we’ll be
cooking with our beautiful Italian mamme
and professional chefs and also eating and exploring our way through
the region.  There are four tour dates available from which
to choose! For tour details, check out this page: Culinary Tours in Puglia 2013! 

***Early booking discount: Book and pay by check by January 31, 2013 and receive a $200 discount off the tour price.****




 Padulano Cows Feeding



Related Posts:

Tour of Masseria L’Astore and a Frantoio Ipogeo in Salento

Lunch Salento Style at Cantine Menhir

The Art of Making Pasta by Hand: A Pugliese Pasta Lesson with Nonna Vata

A Tour of Lecce – The Baroque Beauty in Puglia

The Pastries of Lecce with Pastry Chef Luca Capilungo

Pugliese Pasta: Handmade Sagne Ncannulate with Schiattariciati Sauce

Classic Salentino Cuisine Reinvented at Sette di Sette in Lecce

The Dish from Puglia: Friselle with Tomatoes

The Dish from Puglia: Ricci di Mare (sea urchins) from Porto Badisco

The Dish from Lecce: Rustico Leccese



  1. Paula
    April 28th

    Tremendous post! It all looks SO good … I’m dying here, salivating …

  2. Paula
    April 28th

    So, when are we moving to Puglia?

    April 29th

    Delicious! Love the photographs.

  4. Frank
    April 30th

    How I love, love, love cheese! I’d be drooling at this place. :)

  5. Jozee
    April 30th

    Love this post. Love the cheese. Wish that I had some of it right now.

  6. This looks like so much fun, and you get to taste as well!

  7. Eileen
    May 4th

    Hi there!
    Love your blog and was so happy to run across this post! My fiance and I are going to be spending a few weeks in agritourismi in Abruzzo and Puglia for our Honeymoon in a few months. We are beginning cheese makers who would love to visit a few caseifici while we’re in italy. I am wondering if you might be able to pass on the contact info for Azienda Padulano as I’m having a hard time finding their website and would love to visit. Also any other tips you might have would be greatly appreciated!
    Grazie mille :)
    – Eileen

  8. Kathy
    May 4th

    Thank you all for the great comments. The cheese was absolutely delicious. There is nothing like tasting fresh cheese seconds after it’s been made.
    Eileen – I’m sure you will LOVE Puglia. Azienda Padulano doesn’t have a website, but here is their address as it’s written on their business card: sede via Maglie – Cutrofiano km. 3,00 – 73022 Corigliano D’otranto (LE)- phone: 0836 427624. If you would like to make your plans independently, I would also suggest you seek out masserie, there are several that make cheese, in the area (I will be posting information on masserie soon), and there is a “Farmer’s Market” in Lecce that has information on all the local producers (I will also be posting about this soon.) Actually, I have a ton more to share from my trip to Salento, the very south of Puglia, which should be useful to your travels. For something specific or more details, you are also welcome to contact me via email at chefkathyayer [at] yahoo [dot] com.
    Ylenia, who offers culinary tours with Ciao Laura Culinary Tours, organized this visit and the ones to the masserie. Many times I believe you can see as much (and sometimes more) independently than with a tour, but in this case I would recommend booking a tour with Ylenia through Ciao Laura to organize a day or two touring various casefici and masserie. I spent 5 days with Ylenia and cannot say enough good things about her and her crew. I think she knows everyone in the entire Salento area. With her you would definitely get an insider’s look into all of these places.

  9. Tuula
    May 5th

    It pains me to be getting to this post so late because I just have to say this: Forget the wedding of the century, this was the trip of the century!
    You did so many wonderful things on this vacation & I’m just waiting for Food Lover’s Odyssey tours to get up and running :) (seriously!)

  10. Kathy
    May 10th

    Tuula – No worries, I’m glad you’re hear now! It was definitely a trip of the century, and the thing is I have at least two months more of posts, not including the recipes I learned, to share! OK, so what do you think about a “Food Lover’s Odyssey & Petit France Blog’s journey through the south of France”?? (seriously!)

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