Bringing back a piece of Poggiorsini to London

Sitting in between the olive trees, the whole world seems still, the hills are gentle, rounded and open, as are the people, so generous and welcoming.  I get a glimpse into another way of life, with different qualities at the heart, love, sharing, being together, laughter, companionship, generosity and a hanging on to rituals and traditions that work with what the land gives us.

We wake up at 4am to work alongside the local cheese-makers - a family-run business set on a small farm just outside of Poggiorsini - we milk the cows and the fresh milk goes straight into the pots which get instantly worked by the 2 brothers and mother into fresh cheeses - mozzarella, stracciatella, ricotta, cream, butter and other fresh cheeses I had never heard of - nothing is wasted and all is made by hand.  While they are making, I am amazed by their craftsmanship, a cheese takes on a whole new dimension, they tell stories as they are making, changing the structure of the milk in a pasta form which they plat, knot, make perfectly smooth shapes with. Silvia and I get a go and they affectionately call our cheeses ‘little monsters’ which we get to take home.

They tell stories about the land, the importance of working with the hands, their hard work, the passion that goes into making cheese and taking care of the animals, the difficulties they are facing due to large scale farms and machines replacing people and how they struggle to compete.  All this while laughing together.  At 7am everyone stops to sit down for a breakfast with fresh warm milk, the sister, uncle, aunt and children join.  And then back to work.  We go outside to watch the sun rise over the hills of the Murgia National Park, a protected area of natural beauty.

For a moment I get a very simple sense of what life is about, all the complexities fall away.  Soon afterwards I sense hopelessness and sadness at the realisation of being in the midst of losing what roots us to the Earth and to each other.  I can’t help but to ask myself how we have come to live in a world where machines have taken over what seems to be one of the most elemental human needs and abilities of working side by side with each other and with the land and understanding its benefits, needs and limitations?

The purpose of my trip to Poggiorsini was to accompany Silvia, whose parents in law live there, to see with outsider eyes what she has been seeing there over the last years - a way of life and heritage that is at risk of being lost as the generation of our parents gets older and younger generations move away from the village - did I see potential in the traditions that are still alive there, are there ways to involve the local community in a revival process, could there be links with London and Global Generation, is there possibilities for jobs and opportunities to be created in the process both for local people and the newly arrived refugees in the village so as to build a more sustainable and diverse community?

Through taking me on a journey of almond picking, peeling and drying; harvesting tomatoes, making tomato sauce and bottling it up to last through the year; foraging for wild asparagus and herbs in the hills; finding rocks to sit on and find stillness; making fresh pasta from the wheat that Alex’s family grows and grinds; drinking the wine that the neighbours make; sitting down for long lunches during the hot hours of the day; throwing a party with the local people and the newer neighbours who have made the dangerous journey over the mediterranean from Africa in search of a safer and better life; we follow a different rhythm, I find space inside to be, to think, to dream.

I don’t know yet how these dreams will translate into projects but I know that they will in Poggiorsini, starting with small steps this year and with the potential for a bigger vision, I can see the potential that Silvia has been seeing all these years.  Just as importantly, this trip has given me renewed energy to explore how we can run Global Generation more according to the rhythms and patterns of nature and how heritage and the passing down of stories are foundational for creating a more life sustaining future.  

Thank you to Silvia, Alex, Aida, Lucia, Nino and Walter for all the wonderful experiences, generous hospitality and letting me into a piece of your world.

More about the local cheesemakers and more about the local brewery.