At Malga Pozof nature teaches you to love what you do and teach it to others
What does it mean to wake up under big white clouds, to breathe the air and know what the weather will be like, to teach something to someone, and to look around and consider yourself lucky to be able to do this every day, every year and for a lifetime?
I do not know. My life is too busy and distracted by my phone’s ringtone and vibration to even imagine an answer.
I’d love to stop time and live like Renato Gortani and his family for a while, gazing at the mountaintop and fantasizing about the future in silence.
That time will come. For now I’m happy to walk among the wild flowers of the meadows where Renato takes the cows to graze.
The wild flowers seem to me a perfect representation of humanity: they are born anywhere from seeds blown by the wind, they are all different and unique, and your imagination can bring you to see whiskers, locks of hair, moles, beauty spots and hairdos in them. They don’t seem like much on their own but grouped together they are a hymn to beauty… I absolutely love them.
We find ourselves in the northern part of the Friuli Venezia Giulia region, specifically in the mountainous area of Carnia, at 1583 meters of altitude atop Monte Zoncolan, known as one of the hardest stages of the Giro d’Italia.
Malga Pozof is where the Gortani family spends its summers. Twenty years ago, the family had transformed an empty building in a malga (alpine summer house) and in an agriturismo (local restaurant that brings visitors to a farm or ranch), where you eat tasty cheeses with potato Frico (similar to potato Rösti, a wafer of shredded cheese and potatoes), polenta and cjarcions (stuffed ravioli typical of the Carnia region).
“When we first got here, this building was a cathedral in the desert − Renato tells me − But we picked up every stone, one by one, and rebuilt it”.
“We had the whole family pitch in: my children and I were looking for a small mountain house, while my wife and sister-in-law insisted on opening an agriturismo”.
Renato has always been a pasture man. His father introduced him to the dairy business when he was only five years old, bringing him to the family malga − on the border with Austria − to meet his mother, who had just given birth to a baby brother.
To be in contact with animals, to follow the will of nature, to dry your tears when all seems lost are life lessons that can only be learned in places like these. Here, effort and tenacity are the only means to succeed in creating something.
A long time ago, these were the only means to survive.
“The war had just ended when I had my first malga experience… it seems like yesterday that my father told me of when, by sheer luck, he managed to survive the violent German retaliation that killed five of his workers”.
“At the time, my father was then 37 years old and had five young children, the youngest was only 15 days old − he tells me – Every now and then I think of how my father, at that time, was of the same age as my son Michele is now. These memories live inside me, always, to remind me of how they we to be so attached to our work and activity, despite the danger”.
In the colorful world of Malga Pozof, on Monte Zoncolan, Michele Gortani, Renato’s son, follows his father’s activity and teaches the craft to young boys that spend the summer here when school is out, to learn how to look after the cows and make cheese.
But Michele has a law degree. “I could have focused on other things but I knew that my nature would be fulfilled only in an environment like this one”, he says. “I think that doing what you like − in difficult times like the ones we live in − makes us happier. I am so, therefore I can’t be anything but convinced of my choice”.
Renato is very satisfied to see that the work he has dedicated his life to with great passion, is able to find continuity in the family and in the younger generations who come to lend a hand instead of spending the holidays between selfies and nightclubs. “With this experience the kids become responsible: they get up early in the morning and go to bed early at night”.
Work in the malga follows very precise rhythms. In the early morning you work the cheese with fresh milk, milked from the cows the night before.
“All of our cows are Alpine Browns. We currently have about ninety between adult ones, young heifers and calves – Renato explains – The choice of this breed for our cheese comes from my father’s tradition. He chose it for the quality of the milk it produces and for its aptitude to pasture”.
“We know each cow by name, which is quite usual for those who do this job, but we also know them one by one for their specific character: there are some that are more restless and tend to stray from the herd, then there are quieter ones, and others that are more wary. The relationship we keep with them is critical for their well-being and for the quality of the milk”.
The cows of the Gortani family, with their great sweet eyes, graze all summer on the Zoncolan, feeding on fresh and aromatic herbs that make their cheese so good.
“In this area of Carnia the botanical varieties are many and differ each season. We like to think that it is the milk that commands the dairyman: according to its scent and its texture we make cheese that best reflects the environment”.
“An environment that hosts pastures is a healthy environment − says Renato – because it is the animals that guard it, care for it, and keep it clean”.
So, our cold winter days find warmth in the heat of the sun, grass, pasture and in the scent of the milk and cheeses that dairymen such as Renato, his children and the “boys” prepare during the summer.
These days, Malga Pozof is closing because the season is over and the animals have finished their pasture on the Zoncolan. But the dairy and cheese-making activity continues in the business down on the plain, up until the next season.
“In this environment, you are continually motivated to live life − says Renato − Nature can bring you to your knees but it also gives you great satisfaction. I was lucky enough to come to know this world as a child, and to have passed on to my children the same passion for this job, which requires you to often make big efforts and deal with difficult moments”.
“I have always trusted in Divine Providence in my life. When I am faced with difficulties, I look up and I rely on my faith. I could not think of living without this strength. Nature teaches us to wait, to hope, to believe… first of all in ourselves and then in something bigger that, in different ways, always manages to lend a hand”.
These are the images we carry in our hearts