Study Abroad in Northern Italy 2018
Day hike to learn about pastoralism in the Dolomites (life in malga and cheesemaking)
On today’s excursion, I was able to visit the Dolomites mountain peaks. This network of UNESCO recognized sites can peak up to five thousand meters and also have a sheer wall of limestone and other abundant minerals. Before even starting on the trail, I was pleased to find out that the lift had been rated an A+ in its energy certification. I love to see first hand how all of the buildings in Italy have some sort of energy consumption grade which can be found in the entrances. Since every building needs to have some sort of grade, it is awesome to see how the environmental philosophy behind going green and saving energy has permeated the Italian lifestyle. After visiting the stunning mountains, I then had the opportunity to visit an old wood mill station in the city of Molvano. Here I saw how renewable energy sources like running water have been harnessed for use for hundreds of years. Also, seeing the mechanics behind the mill was awesome because it was definitely the contemporary technology of the time.
Today was my favorite day thus far. The Dolomites were BREATHTAKING! There were a few times when we were hiking up that I lost my footing and thought that my life may end BUT I’m here. :-)! Lake Molveno was BEAUTIFUL! It was formed about 5,000 years ago by a landslide and is the deepest lake in Trentino. It’s about 4,000ft deep and is one of the largest alpine rivers! Truly was one of the most amazing sites I have seen. I am not really able to put into words how beautiful the sites were that we saw today or how surreal the views were, but I do want to start hiking WAY more and never will forget this experience.
Visiting the cheese making laboratory and discussing “food mileage” was very thought-provoking. Dr. Fissore said something that really stuck with me and I need to put into practice. “It is better if we are cognizant of the food we are eating, season by season, like clothing.” I have a “want it now at any costs” mentality and I need to get rid of that. I need to eat fewer foods that aren’t locally grown and cultivated and more foods that are natural, locally grown and in-season. In addition, I am lactose-intolerant so learning about the specifics of dairy products was great because I was able to better understand why my body isn’t able to process certain foods.
Today we went to the town of Molveno and took a cableway ride to the upper parts of the dolomite mountain ranges with incredible views! The forest we walked through was full of red spruce and they are able to survive because of the high atmospheric humidity. It was created to preserve natural and cultural human heritage of the area. Deer, rock goat, and the alpine brown bear are just a few of the many species that live throughout it. Man has been exploring the dolomite mountains for over 8000 years. 50 million years ago the Dolomites rose from the sea and for the last 10,000 years they took the shape we see today through the sculpting of erosion. Then we went to malga tovre which is a traditional alpine pastoralism factory. It is a family driven farm that provides local income to local people. The cows are brought up to this area for a period of the year to graze the grasses and while they do so they milk the cows to produce and sell cheese. The animals are treated very well and are able to walk around a large area and eat what they want and do what they want. The cows are milked twice a day and produce 20-22 liters of milk per day. Bears are and issue for the sake of the baby calf’s that could be eaten by them so they have to stay fenced off to stay safe. One fun fact I learned is that cows only produce milk if they have calf’s so they have to have baby’s to get the milk from them. Also, if they don’t milk the cows, they have the potential to catch diseases or inflammation so it’s important that they are milked. We got to see the whole process of making cheese from milking the cow all the way to molding the cheese to age for 3-4 months before being able to sell. Then we hiked over to the historic Venetian lumber mill which was named after a priest that lived in the town in the early 16th century. The population was poor in the area when it was first created so it added value to the townspeople to cut and sell timber in the town and abroad. They used the timber for activities such as ship building and for house creations.
Today’s visit to the Dolomites mountains helped me to gain both a better understanding and appreciation for this amazing natural phenomenon. The Dolomites are unique because they exemplify the geological changes that have occurred in the past four million years. Currently a natural protected area of UNESCO, the Dolomites were once a Mediterranean Sea, and the peaks of the mountains were islands. The coral and sea sponges created the divots and creases within the mountain sides, helping to form their unique stratospheric shape, and archeologists have found evidence, that during the time of dinosaurs, the tops of these mountains were islands, with beaches and land all inhabited by mainly extinct species of both plants, animals, and insects. Marine sedimentation, endogenous luffing, and erosion helped to form the valleys and peaks present today. As the land shifted, the islands formed into mountains, and simultaneously, the sea drained, leaving the valleys, and creating the mountains that we see today. Unfortunately, volcanic activity ceased the growth of these mountains, yet the beauty of these former islands is still visible today.
While we were making and tasting butter in the Dolomites, someone asked an interesting question that brought me back to the Nutrition course I took this past semester with Dr. Van Oosbree. Is it butter in general that’s unhealthy, or is it because, in America, the preservatives make it unhealthy? Dr. Fissore answered by mentioning the fact that multiple generations ago when people first started making and eating butter, they were also walking around a lot and were generally very healthy. While they didn’t have access to modern technology or medicine and comparatively, didn’t live very long, they were able to live their lives free from everyone. Nowadays, people, especially in the United States, will eat butter they bought from Vons or some other big name store, while they sit on their couch watching Netflix. Because of their unhealthy appetite and inactivity, modern day people rely on others to make them healthy. This includes personal trainers, physical therapists, doctors, coaches, nutritionists, etc. Generally speaking, one doesn’t have access to a doctor or a PT in their home; they would have to drive to another place in order to be “treated.” What this means is there are more carbon emissions going into the air that could be prevented if we as a culture decide to adopt the ideas of the past and exercise more. These locations where we are “treated” for being sedentary are hardly sustainable, as well. In the end, maybe it wouldn’t be a horrible idea to copy some of the ideas of past generations, such as eating things in season, eating locally, and exercising daily.
Wow. Today we went on a hike through the Dolomites and it was absolutely incredible. The hike provided the most picturesque views I have ever seen outside of Yosemite in the U.S.. It was also great to hear that the brown bear and other species of wolves had been successfully reintroduced into the dolomite forests and are successfully surviving and thriving. The fact that the Italian government is taking steps to rectify the mistakes they had made with specifies in the past is impressive and the fact that it is succeeding is even more-so. The most impressive parts of the Dolomites was the fact that there were trees and nature surrounding you from every angle and the reasons why it is declared a UNESCO site became much more clear to me. At the peak of the hike we came across one of the many malgas in the alpines that focus on sustainably creating cheese raising cattle in an open range. Although the production level wasn’t on par with that of some of the bigger producers of milk, it was amazing to see someone focusing on raising animals the right way and sustainably creating a product that, not only tastes good but, helps an endangered species of cow survive. One of the points that was made at the malgas in terms of their importance is that they provide local income to local people and, even though it may not be the most sustainable way to produce dairy products the underlying idea of preserving a species has proven to be more important in the grand scheme of things.
On the agenda for June 5th, we started in the town of Molveno and went on a beautiful hike to malga tovre which is a traditional alpine pastoralism factory. Since they use a traditional system in the process of getting the milk and making the cheese there are pros and cons associated with this way of production. The system itself does not consist of any advanced technology, rather an advancement of the thought and belief towards the environment and well being of the cows. This process is actually only three months from June to August because of the change in weather and natural breeding patterns, this gives the owners a short window to actually create product. The cows are able to roam free out in the pasture, unlike large corporations that keep the cows confined in stalls year round. The cows are only in the barn where the milking actually happens for about an hour to an hour and a half, and that happens twice a day in the morning and night time. The cows are not given antibiotics or hormones, they are actually pregnant with calves. The cows that are used are endangered and this also helps with rescuing the species so that they do not go extinct. Once the cows are milked, the milk is walked a couple meters to the room where one man makes the cheese. In one year only about 1500 kg of cheese is actually produced, making it so that it cannot be sold in restaurants or markets. Since this company is more focused on the well being of the cows and the quality of the cheese they produce less output but for a higher price. The man that managed the business was explaining to us the disconnect that people have with some of the consumers of this area. This company in particular is trying to keep the traditional ways and stay away from the conventional process that large corporations have adopted. This is hard to explain to a consumer that is just buying the product without much thought of where it is coming from or the process behind the cheese, in this case, that they are holding in their hand. The consumer without this understanding will choose a cheese that is cheaper with a lower quality. Since people have an obscure view and are uneducated about these processes it is hard for them to really grasp the understanding. I think that is why it is hard to be a producer in the mountains that are trying to be sustainable and also somehow profitable at the same time.
From the hike through the Dolomite mountain range, to the hands on experience that we all had with making cheese, today was VERY well spent. Malga Tovre and Francesco Gubert were great examples of people and places who acknowledge the importance of different processes that society tends to take advantage of. Creating a relationship with things other than human beings can be a way of appreciation. Malga Tovre and Gubert have created a relationship with the cows that foster milk production and food. The close relationships that are formulated help foster a sense of pride and gratitude towards the product that is being made. If you grow a relationship to something, you are less likely to take advantage of it. When Gubert’s cheese is ready to be bought, he is going to feel more appreciative of what that cows were able to provide him with because of the process, time and dedication that he has invested. It is also special that the remains of other foods are given back to the animals; such as the whey in the milk and the leftover polenta. Nothing is being taken advantage of and instead, is being used as a cycle.
For today’s adventures we were able to tae a cable car, up from Molveno, to the upper parts of the Dolomites which was a truly amazing view. Where we were at before we got onto the cable car we had a briefing from our tour guide Luca and he explained to us that the lake nearby would get cleaned and drained out every ten years since it was fro the hydroelectric power plant. Although the hydroelectric power plant is beneficial because it is using natural resources to create energy, every time they drain the lake they are killing everything that resides inside of the lake. The mountains that we hiked through today was one of the largest natural parks in Trentino-Alto which was created in 1967 but was up and running in 1988. It was extremely beautiful and our tour guide, Luca, taught us how there really is nothing that grows beneath the beech wood trees which was interesting because I did not even realize that the only thing on the ground was the fallen leaves no flowers or anything like that. Another fact which I will always remember because I was taken aback by the fact that the Dolomites actually rose out from the sea 50 million years ago and then landslides did the rest of the shaping of the beautiful mountain range. We also learned about the pastoralism in the Dolomites, which was also very eye opening. We were able to learn about the sustainable farm and how they are 100% organic and free range. At the farms they actually had the cows out roaming around the pasture eating the grass that is grown naturally from the ground and they have no hormones injected into them or anything of that nature. They also discussed how they have a very short production distance because they are the actual definition of farm to table. The cows that are on the farm are all local breeds but they are also endangered meaning that they cost more money to purchase but in the end it is completely worth it. The way the farm produces there milk is completely raw meaning there are no preservatives and they also do not need that up the milk to kill the bacteria and it keeps all the natural ingredients that the environment provided. Personally, I believe that other farms should have this same mentality but people are so caught up in the money aspect of things and needing to have everything that moment in such large portions that it takes away all the natural minerals that we need to live and it is right in our back yard we just need to realize it and use what the environment gives us.
Today we hiked through the Dolomites to find a dairy farm. The farm attempted to produce as little pollution as possible. They allowed the cows to roam free, which they said caused the cheese and milk to be more aromatic (this is due to the lactic build-up from expending calories while producing milk) and allowed them to eat natural grasses. The farm also avoided poisoning the nearby water sources with nitrate by allowing the cattle to roam and fertilize the grounds that way. There was a single Farmer, with a younger boy helper and four additional aids in the kitchen. They practiced this as a way to show respect for the history of their culture, as well as respect for nature. However they acknowledged that they personally have very little physical impact, and rely on teaching others in order to have an impact. They produce .02% of the .1% of sustainable milk produced by italy, scarcely able to be seen at all. However, it is inspiring to see people continue this work for the love of the land, even with the knowledge of the insurmountable odds. They are doing their part to make the world better, and trying to get others to do the same.
Going into the hike today, I thought it was going to be really tough because everyone kept saying how long of a day it was going to be, but it ended up being really enjoyable and not too tiring at all. On top of that, the view from the top was unbeatable, and of course eating lunch at the malga and visiting with Francesco at the cheese-making factory was worth any walking we had to do. It was really nice to see the transition from the community within the village at the bottom of the mountain to the community on top of the mountain; everyone here has such a deep appreciation for this area that comes out in so many different ways and narratives. It was interesting to hear these differences from people who are impacted by what the mountains bring to this region. Visiting the malga also put into perspective how much work goes into maintaining a living here; this cheese factory, for example, is maintained by people who wake up each day and work from morning until night doing mostly the same thing each day. However, everyone we’ve spoken to has looked at this and talked about it in a positive way. They all seem so proud of their communities and their places within them, and they seem genuinely happy to be doing these things, despite it being “work.” I think Western culture is very accustomed to the idea that work is just work, and we wait for the day to be over, and once it is it’s out of our minds. Here they are so involved and seem to care so much beyond the work day, and it definitely shows in how they speak about their culture and their daily lives.
Today we spent the most time outside that we have this whole trip and let me say that it was AMAZING! We went to the UNESCO Dolomites, then to a small mountain farm that produces local cheeses among other great products. I was surprised to hear that the lake we were able to see from our hike was once not sustainable or environmentally friendly. The lake would be drained every ten years to clean it and do nothing to relocate the animals living within it or the help the habitat the lake contained. The Dolomites became one of the biggest natural parks in Trentino-Alto in 1967 but only become operational in 1988. One of the most interesting things that I learned about the dolomite area is that the people living there would use wind power to power buildings and other components of that nature. The next place we visited was the farm, which was equally as interesting. They maintain a traditional system with the cows which means that they actually have the cows outside in the pasture and do not use concentrates or keep them in stalls like large corporations. The traditional system also has a very short production chain from grass to fork within a couple of feet which guarantees freshness…I could totally taste the freshness of our meal there today! The most interesting thing I learned about the farm is that it doesn’t actually produce a lot of animal waste because they are so small scale while still be able to profit from their population unlike big corporations that deplete their surrounding environment in order to profit. Overall these visits today were very interesting and I definitely gained more inset into the subjects than what I had before!
Today we spent the most time outside that we have this whole trip and let me say that it was AMAZING! We went to the UNESCO Dolomites, then to a small mountain farm that produces local cheeses among other great products. I was surprised to hear that the lake we were able to see from our hike was once not sustainable or environmentally friendly. The lake would be drained every ten years to clean it and do nothing to relocate the animals living within it or the help the habitat the lake contained. The Dolomites became one of the biggest natural parks in Trentino-Alto in 1967 but only become operational in 1988. One of the most interesting things that I learned about the dolomite area is that the people living there would use wind power to power buildings and other components of that nature. The next place we visited was the farm, which was equally as interesting. They maintain a traditional system with the cows which means that they actually have the cows outside in the pasture and do not use concentrates or keep them in stalls like large corporations. The traditional system also has a very short production chain from grass to fork within a couple of feet which guarantees freshness…I could totally taste the freshness of our meal there today! The most interesting thing I learned about the farm is that it doesn’t actually produce a lot of animal waste because they are so small scale while still be able to profit from their population unlike big corporations that deplete their surrounding environment in order to profit. Overall these visits today were very interesting and I definitely gained more insight into the subjects than what I had before!
Like the two previous days, today was another long day, full of hiking and walking, but the difference between this day and others was I feel this day the hikes and walking led to much greater rewards, as we were able to get a spectacular view of some of the Brenta Dolomites mountains. The dolomites are unique, in that they are the ancient remnants of islands that used to be surrounded by water hundreds of millions of years ago, which after some tectonic shifts, as well as erosion, have surmounted into the spectacular mountain range, which we got to see today. On the way back from our hike, we met up with Francesco Gubert, a freelance agricultural engineer, who gave us a tour of the Malga Tovre alpine facility, which is a traditional pastoral farm located high up near the Brenta Dolomites. At the farm, we were introduced to some of the breeds of cows used at the farm, all of which included endangered species of alpine cows. Francesco explained to us how the cows were free to roam and graze wherever they please, rain or shine, they would still have the option to go outside if they wanted. Another note he pointed out was the production chain all took place in the same area, meaning that from farm to fork, the entire process takes place entirely on the land we visited today. This farm is a great example of the slow food movement which we read about earlier, and although these sort of farms do not generally produce as much or necessarily compete with other larger producers who are not sustainable, these farms take pride in what they do and mainly generate revenue by getting visitors to come and see and learn about how their product is different from others, in this case, cheeses and milk. Another reason it is hard for the particular farm we visited to compete on a larger scale is because the endangered breeds of cows they have produce only about 1/3 the amount of milk compared to a normal production cow. They also are limited by law the amount of cows they are allowed to have on their pasture, which is another barrier to these high altitude alpine farms. Lastly, because of the harsh weather that normally engulfs the area during the entirety of the fall through spring, the cows can only graze here seasonally. In terms of sustainability, this type of farm is much more sustainable than normal production farms. For example, the byproduct of the cheese produced, whey, is used to help feed the cows and pigs on their farm and neighboring farms. The farmer also spreads a bacterial substance on the barn floor in order to keep the surrounding environment clean from the runoff from within the barn, because of the manure, which may accumulate inside. After the farm, we checked out a retired saw mill at the bottom of the mountain in Molveno, which was interesting mainly due to how it worked together using the natural resources around it to power it, so in essence, it was very efficient and did not have any negative environmental impact. The mill also ran for over 400 years, which is impressive that such a simple technique was utilized for so long and was able to be self-sustainable the entire time.
Today’s hike was definitely the most beautiful out of all the ones that we have done. Seeing the Dolomite mountains with the sun glistening on them was by far one of the most amazing things that I have ever seen. Going up the gondola was an adventure all on its own. I think it was so awesome to see how well the environment is perserved high up in the mountains. It was bitter sweet to see a cafe being built at the top of the mountain because it ruins the landscape but I know it brings money into the mountains in order to help them continuously preserve the area. On our way down the mountain, we stopped at a Malga farm that consisted of about a dozen cows total and some incredibly fresh cheese. It was so interesting to learn about the process of cheese making and butter making. It was very fun and interactive. We also learned from the farmer that he makes his living off of tourists that come to the restaurant and buy the cheese as well as all of the regulations he has to follow in order to stay in business. Next we visited the Wood Mill. At this location I liked to see the strong relationship between history and today in our present world. After 400 years, we are still using a similar process. The only difference is that today we produce in mass quantities and it is more industrialized. All in all, it was another day full of new experiences and new life lessons.
Tourism in the Dolomites was a huge theme in what the group did today. We learned that the Dolomite mountains were originally only accessible through hiking up the mountain but then a cable cart was built to take people directly up the mountain. This was seen as very controversial to the locals because of the environmental “disruption” it may cause. In the end the cable cart was built but the outcome wasn’t the doomsday the locals predicted. It was actually a stimulus to the area and new hotels and business started to appear because of an influx in tourism. This has helped local people acquire money to reinvest in the community and sustain themselves with the changing landscape of the Alpine region. For example, the cheesemaker we visited was a local farmer and had a sincere furor to create cheese in the most intimate way. He was an example of how he cares for the animals he uses to harvest milk while also caring for the Dolomite lands by using the cows to graze the land. With his small business he stated that he doesn’t sell to restaurants or supermarkets due to the low output from his farm, therefore he relies solely on the inflow of tourists. This is what has become the case for a lot of the local businesses and this is what helps the locals stay within the area.20180605_090626.jpg 20180605_124116.jpg20180605_161927.jpg
Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *
Notify me of followup comments via e-mail