We were able to get a firsthand exclusive look at the rich history behind the Murazzano cheese from Simone Marenchino, whose parents Bartolo and Eugenia Marenchino focused their energy on bringing a breed of Italian sheep back from the brink of extinction, and created a unique and delicious cheese in the process.
Murazzano, a semi-firm sheep’s milk cheese, boasts an ivory paste and velvety, toothsome texture laden with mellow notes of summer fruit and a gentle lactic tang. This D.O.P. designated cheese is made in the Province of Cuneo in Piemonte, Italy, and produced in the hills of the Langhe region, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. By D.O.P. regulation, the cheese must be made from the milk of a breed of indigenous sheep known as “La Langarola.”
Simone’s story begins with a sheep breeding crisis during the 1990s. La Langarola sheep had the odds stacked against them due to a flight from rural areas into the city, and the fact that the sheep only produce one liter of milk a day, far less than other Italian breeds who can produce up to four or five.
“For these reasons, interest in breeding these sheep declined,” says Simone. “Therefore the number of Langarola sheep declined from about 20,000 to about 1.000, which is when the Marenchino family arrived. The limited milk offered into the market substantially reduced the production of the Murazzano D.O.P.
“Bartolo and Eugenia Marenchino, owners of the Marenchino cheese company, decided to focus their energy and efforts to keep alive this breed of sheep and the product, Murazzano cheese itself. The reason Bartolo and Eugenia decided to strongly invest in the sheep and the cheese production was to keep alive the biodiversity and tradition of the area. At the start of 2000, Eugenia went to the smaller farmers that still had some of the Langarola sheep. She started to create relationships with the farmers and to buy a few sheep (4 or 5 at a time) from one farmer and few from another. Soon she had a flock of 50 sheep.
“That number of sheep was enough to start a small farm and to step by step re-introduce the product into the market. Year by year, sheep after sheep, by selecting them from a genetic point of view, the flock grew to about 1,200 sheep. They doubled the number of the remaining sheep and prevented their extinction,” says Simone.
Traditionally, the women in the family look after the production of Murazzano, and Simone’s mother Eugenia has dedicated her life to this passion and cause. Next to their farm is where the cheese is produced, in a small site that relies on the daily harvest of Langarola milk. According to the Marenchino family, this milk is essential to highlight and enhance the flavors and aromas of the cheese. “You can really live a Langhe experience by tasting it,” says Simone.
Now that’s what we call a serious taste of place.