When I visited Picinisco in 1969 my father Giacinto asked me to bring back a pecorino cheese for him. In Picinisco, I asked where one could be found, not in a shop, apparently. Instead I was told I would have to go with Elvira to the Casale where their was a farmer who still made cheese. So the following day we set off along a rough track made of limestone fragments which in some places resembled a dried up river bed and our car rolled alarmingly over the bumpy ground. As we rose higher, it was difficult to see whether we were still on a road or simply driving over open countryside. The landscape consisted of bumpy rough grass with grey-white rocks breaking through. I was convinced that we were completely lost until at last we reached a group of antique stone houses with narrow alleyways between them. My father had told me about the Casale but, even so, it was a surprise to see these stone houses, many now empty or ruined, grouped so closely together in the middle of the countryside.
We were shown in to the modernised kitchen of one house by an elderly couple who had been expecting us. The fridge and washing machine seemed incongruous in such a remote place. Some small glasses were placed upon the simple table and filled with a sticky brightly coloured liqueur, after drinking a toast from the tiny glasses, we got down to business.
Or rather, Elvera did, as the farmer understood no English and I no Italian (well, none suitable for buying cheese from a country farmer) We walked along a stone paved alleyway to a house with an external staircase leading to the upper floor.
The first floor room was very dark with only a tiny shaft of light from a small shuttered window to penetrate the gloom. In one corner an old tiled stove was built into the wall, the sort that could also act as an oven and in the centre of the room were four cheeses set out upon a plank suspended by some ropes from the ceiling. Our lack of Italian made it impossible to join the protracted negotiations which then followed between Elvira and the cheese seller. The cheeses were handled, pushed, prodded, thrown and generally mistreated during what appeared to be a heated argument between the two parties while we were completely ignored. Finally, a deal was struck, lira removed from my hand and I was presented with a fine pecorino cheese. I decided that it was not a good idea to ask where things could be bought.
I could understand the strong bonds that formed among the extended families that lived so closely together in this remote place, and how these had survived in their adopted country. It also brought home the simple hard life led by my grandparents generation and the extent of their achievement in creating their businesses and making their home in a foreign land.
I also noticed a large concrete circle surrounded by a low wall and remembered my father telling me how he had witnessed grain being threshed in such a pit. He said the grain was hit with a flail consisting of two sticks connected by a leather thong, the chaff being blown away by the wind. Now I believed him.