Until a few years ago, semi-skimmed milk was poured into copper cauldrons inside which it was constantly agitated by a roller; next came the cooking stage, during which bundles of wood were gradually added under the cauldron to stoke up the fire so as to reach a temperature of 50-52°C (preferably 50 when the cheese making milk was sour and thin). During this operation, the fire was so hot that often it singed the shirts of the sotcaldéra, the assistants who carried out the most menial and strenuous tasks in the dairy.
The operation of extracting the curd, which had deposited on the bottom, was carried out using a cloth and was quite laborious. Once extracted, the wheel was placed in a large bucket, where it remained for about half an hour (one hour maximum) in order to allow the hot whey, with which it was saturated, to drain. The wheel, still wrapped in the cloth, was then put into the “fascera” (mould), a high-sided circle of wood, equipped with a stout rope that enabled it to be made narrower or wider as necessary.
For a wheel obtained from about 5-6 quintals of milk the mould was 22 centimetres high and double that in diameter.
A good mature grana cheese had a granular structure, was easy to break and grate and was full of little holes or eyes, known as “vacui”, scattered evenly throughout. Its bouquet was pleasant and aromatic, its colour a light yellow, and its flavour intense and spicy, but not excessively so.
To cut it, or rather, to split it, required a short, sturdy, double-edged knife so as to reveal the granular structure. There were cheeses weighing from 20 to 80 kilograms on the market; the biggest were the most popular, providing they were perfect. The wheels were cylindrical, with convex sides; they tried to maintain a certain ratio between the height and the diameter, so that the former was a little more than a third of the latter.