Biodiversity in the Mediterranean – how careful grazing can improve plant ecology and produce traditional foods by Andrew Ormerod

In 2006 I visited Dario Novollino anthropologist in the village where he lives in Italy on my way from Rome to Naples.  The village of Maranola is in the Arucuni Mountains between Rome and Naples,  a rural area where traditions are still strong.

Screen Shot 2013-11-06 at 13.10.55Screen Shot 2013-11-06 at 13.03.28                                Villagers from Marinola – Franco Nasta, Dario Novollino and the local carpenter who makes baskets for the cheese and bell collars for the local goats.

It is off the tourist track and looks out on ‘Ulysses Coast’ and the sea beyond.  Quite a contrast to the modern  fast train that had been whisking me from Rome to Naples.    In the past there was a lot of seasonal movement of livestock through this area, which has its own traditional breed of goat.

Screen Shot 2013-11-06 at 13.04.48 Screen Shot 2013-11-06 at 13.05.18                       The local breed of goats and the impact of careful grazing on the diversity of vegetation.

Populations of these goats have been in decline in recent years.  But a group of people from Maranola have revived goat farming and shown how the ecology of the hills can be carefully grazed and diversity enriched by grazing with a combination of goats, donkeys  and cattle.

Screen Shot 2013-11-06 at 13.07.18 Screen Shot 2013-11-06 at 13.07.41                     Left; Franco Nasta looking at the contrast between monotonous grassland and grazed diverse habitat.  Similar controlled levels of grazing increase plant diversity in Cork Forests in S.W. Europe.  Right;  View of grassland over Ulysses Coast.    

The effect was impressive in the fenced area where grazing had taken place there was a diverse range of shrubs including  pistachio, myrtle, heather and invasive grass has been suppressed.  This was quite a contrast to the rest of the  un-grazed so-called conserved hillside nearby which was covered by species poor invasive grass and little else.  The results are quite a contrast to the normal view of goats destroying fragile habitats – but this is a result of farmers management practices for a given habitat and over stocking.   One of Dario Novellino’s friends who lives in the village Franco Nasta produces artisan goat’s cheese such as Caso Peruto and Marzolina.  The former is a cylindrical cheese made with whole goat’s milk between  January and July.

Screen Shot 2013-11-06 at 13.02.51 Screen Shot 2013-11-06 at 13.02.19                                         Left; Franco enjoying the local cheese.   Right; Locally produced bread, wine, olive oil and cheese.

It is matured for up to a year and will keep for three years if stored in oil.  Marzolina is derived from March – the month when the goats start to lactate.  It is mild, rich and oily in flavour and can be matured in glass jars or in olive oil.  Some traditional cheeses are only made when there is fresh growth of herbage which influences the quality of cheese.   Thistle flowers are used in the making of the cheese to curdle milk in a similar way to rennet.   Pliny commented on the quality of the cheese from the area and thanks to the promotion and protection of the Slow Food movement it is thriving again.

©  Andrew Ormerod 2013

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About cornucopiaalchemy

Dr. Andrew Ormerod has 14 years experience working as the Economic Botanist at the Eden Project - researching topical stories, artefacts, ethnobotanical inks, catering and retail links to exhibits. Previously I was involved with plant breeding and plant tissue culture working on a range of crops including winter cauliflowers, agricultural lupins, vining peas, wheat and barley and coconuts. I am now freelance and am interested in opportunities for lecturing; writing articles; consultancy linked to development of botanic gardens for crops based exhibits; supply chain work for unusual food or non-food crops with interesting stories about plants and people attached to them.
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