While many city folks feel the call of Mother Nature and dream of moving to the countryside, Francesco Cerutti had a different idea: “Why not bring the country to the city?” Always innovating, he is trying to “ruralify” Barcelona through an activity that has been strictly connected with pastures, shepherds and the like: cheesemaking.
In 2019, Francesco opened a cheese shop in the city’s Gràcia neighborhood, but he doesn’t just sell dairy goods here. Pinullet is a workshop where customers can see, and even participate in, the rustic and ancient art of transforming simple milk into sophisticated, mouthwatering cheeses.
Originally from Pavia in northern Italy, Francesco studied agricultural and livestock sciences so that he could be a veterinarian for cows and pigs. Eight years ago, he arrived in Catalonia and for three years worked as a farm keeper in the region of La Plana de Vic. One day, he says he realized there was no sense in feeling like he could only live in one of two worlds, and set off to Barcelona with the intention of bringing the countryside and all his knowledge about it with him.
When we arrive at his shop, we see Francesco wearing a Slow Food apron. The Slow Food movement was born in Italy in 1986 to support the consumption of “honest” local and traditional foods. This is the ethos behind Francesco’s cheeses and dairy products, as well. “I opened this urban cheese workshop because I was interested in bringing the production process closer to the people,” he says. “This is why we have a big glass window, to see into the lab [workshop].” Next to the cheese, you will find organic yogurt, marmalades and Francesco’s other passion, natural wines. He believes their production is part of the same philosophy of care and respect for nature and natural processes.
Even though Francesco opened his doors right before the first Covid-19 case hit the world, he has quickly found footing on the Barcelona food chain. “This was a very heavy year,” he says. “I opened in 2019 with almost no time before the pandemic. But step by step we keep working and growing.” Pinullet’s locus of activity starts in the Gràcia neighborhood and extends out through the city and beyond. Outside of his in-shop customers, Francesco sells to restaurants and natural wine bars in the city. A couple of Barcelona pizzerias that use his cheeses – La Balmesina and its second endeavor Gina Balmesina – won “best pizza” prizes in the Madrid Fusion culinary fair. These pizzerias specialize in pies made with organic ingredients, and offer natural wines and craft beer.
Francesco goes even deeper into the urbanization of rural cheese making, organizing events at his workshop to teach customers how to make mozzarella – which is, surprisingly, an easy and fast process. The mozzarella is tossed onto pizza dough that is also made in-shop, and the lesson fades into an evening feast paired with a bottle from Pinullet’s stock of local natural wine brands.
The country-gone-city cheesemonger works with milk that comes from the Can Roger organic farm, located in Cardedeu village on the Barcelona side of the Montseny mountains. He goes through 1,600 liters of milk to produce the 200 kilograms of cheese he sells out of each month. “From my experience as a vet,” he says, “I looked for the best milk quality and best life quality of the cows.” Francesco takes inspiration from his experience with cows from his veterinary training. “I’ve worked with them, so I know why sometimes milk can be so cheap, like €0.22 a liter. Mine has a higher value – around €0.65 or more.” He tells us that the reason behind the big price difference in his milk is the “very different animal treatment and very different agriculture. It’s much more sustainable and respectful, where cows have a longer life grazing in the Montseny mountains.”
Only two of the fresh cheeses at Pinullet – the stracchino and ricotta – require pasteurized milk by law. The rest are produced with raw milk, which preserves its natural aromas and expression. Francesco has a regular stock of six or seven specific cheeses but, when he’s feeling like experimenting with something different, a surprise cheese can appear in the refrigerated counter. One day there might be a paprika-speckled cheese, another day one flecked with basil. He also takes daily orders for fresh mozzarella. “In one day, I can [go through a] 60-liter vat, curdling milk for one batch of a Camembert-type, another fresh one and, if I’m in the mood, maybe some Gorgonzola or a blue one…”
His young stracchino “Straquet” is a creamy cheese with a savory personality and a subtle acid point similar to yogurt. Its consistent creaminess, even at cooler temperatures, makes it perfect for melting over prize-winning pizzas (like those at the Balmesina restaurants) or for spreading on toast with fresh tomato and herbs. Francesco says that in Spain and other countries, there is a lot of “great, fresh cheese” that is much better than the commercially produced mozzarella and burratas. “For me, stracchino is a fantastic alternative,” he adds. “It’s even more tasty.” His organic pasteurized ricotta, the healthy option, is very low in fat and sodium; it’s all proteins and flavor.
With raw milk, Francesco produces “El Blanc,” a Camembert-style cheese that’s like a soft paste with a florid rind and smooth intensity. The “Cachau” is a Brie-style that is a bit more fatty. “Lechería” is his Tomme-style cheese that is aged between one and three months. Francesco refines some of the Lechería in the wine cellar belonging to Partida Creus in Bonastre, a winemaking town south of Barcelona. There, the cheese stays for another two months, coming into contact with the natural yeasts that abound and absorbing more flavor and more complexity. It arrives back at Pinullet with the label “Lechería Creus.”
Pinullet is more than a cheese shop. It is an epicenter of transformation: Yes, of milk into cheese, but also of urban culture into something that is more conscious and naturally connected.
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