Vastedda della Valle del Belice cheese
Vastedda della valle del Belìce DOP Sicilian cheese is made from kneaded sheep's milk curd, which is consumed in its fresh state and when put up for consumption has the following characteristics: the typical round loaf shape with slightly convex sides; between 15 and 17 cm in diameter and between 3 and 4 cm thick; between 500 and 700 g in weight, depending on its size; the surface of the cheese is rindless, matt white, compact and smooth without spots or creases; a light straw-coloured patina is allowed; the curd is of an even whiteness, not grainy but with possible light striations as a result of the traditional kneading method; there must be no, or very few, holes and any ‘sweating’ must be very limited; the aroma is characteristic of fresh sheep’s milk, the flavour is mild, fresh and pleasant with slight acidity in the veins; the fat content is at least 35 % of dry matter and 18 % of the fresh product; the sodium chloride (salt) content may not exceed 5 % of dry matter or 2,7 % of the fresh product.
Vastedda della valle del Belìce is made from the raw, whole milk, with natural acidity from fermentation, of sheep of the Valle del Belìce breed from farms in the production area.
The sheep are fed on natural and/or cultivated pasture land, with fresh fodder, hay and straw from the production area, wheat stubble and by-products of vegetable cultivation (grass growing alongside rows of vines, offcuts from olive trees kept in pots for the winter, prickly pear (cactus) cladodes, vine leaves left after the grape harvest). This may be supplemented, in quantities not exceeding 50 % of the total dry matter of the sheep's feed, with cereal grain, legumes and simple or complex non-GMO concentrates. The feed may not include products of animal origin or trigonella, tapioca and manioc plants or parts of plants (seeds).
Specific rules concerning packaging
The product is put up for consumption in units of between 15 and 17 cm in diameter and between 3 and 4 cm thick, wrapped in airtight polyethylene. As it is a fresh product, the cheese must be packaged at the point of production in order to ensure quality and in particular to preserve its microbiological features, including the inherent lactic bacteria that make it a ‘live’ product that is constantly changing.
Concise definition of the geographical area
- in the province of Agrigento: Caltabellotta, Menfi, Montevago, Sambuca di Sicilia, Santa Margherita di Belìce and Sciacca;
- in the province of Trapani: Calatafimi, Campobello di Mazara, Castelvetrano, Gibellina, Partanna, Poggioreale, Salaparuta, Salemi, Santa Ninfa and Vita;
- in the province of Palermo: Contessa Entellina and Bisacquino (the ‘San Biagio’ area only).
Link with the geographical area
The land in the area where Vastedda della valle del Belìce cheese is produced is characterised by dark limy soils, lithosols, regosols and vertisoils, and by natural and cultivated pasture rich in wild plants and local ecotypes, the vegetation of which is made up of the legumes, grasses and cress that form the animals’ staple diet and have been shown by various scientific studies to play a role in cheese-making in terms of altering the chemical and aromatic composition of the cheese.
The climate in the production area differs from that in other parts of Sicily, with maximum and minimum temperatures (35 °C and 9 °C respectively in the Valle del Belìce) and a particular type of terrain that mean it is not exposed to rapid changes in the weather that could interact with the indigenous dairy microflora that is typical of Vastedda della valle del Belìce cheese.
Vastedda cheese has always been made in the Valle del Belìce from the milk of the indigenous sheep, now referred to as the Valle del Belìce breed and renowned for producing good milk for cheese- making.
Vastedda della valle del Belìce cheese is inextricably linked to the particular soil conditions in the area, the local fodder crops, the master cheese-makers’ typical milk-processing techniques and the use of old wooden and cane equipment that harbours the indigenous dairy microflora that set Vastedda della valle del Belìce apart from other similar cheeses.
The tradition of sheep-rearing and cheese-making in the production area goes back a very long time; traditional methods of sheep-rearing are still used today, using folds that provide the kind of shelter necessary for the animals’ well-being, which in turn improves the quality of the milk used to produce Vastedda della valle del Belìce cheese. The mix of vegetation on the natural and cultivated pastures influences the chemical and aromatic composition of the milk and gives the cheese its particular taste and smell. Key factors determining the taste and final aroma of the product are the traditional method of preparing the rennet, which lends the cheese its particular enzymatic ‘DNA’, and the acidification of the curd in cane cheese-sieves made exclusively from a natural microflora that is typical of the area.
Also, the genuine traditional kneading method requires particular skill given that sheep's milk is not well suited to being processed into kneaded-curd cheese. The name Vastedda comes from the ‘round loaf’ shape that the cheese takes on after kneading, when it is left to set in deep ceramic dishes, or vastedde.
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