[Narrator 1:] Italy, renowed for its wonderful food and wines, cheeses of all types are popular throughout the country. One variety is a pleasantly sharp tasting cheese called Caciocavallo. As a matter of fact, there are only a few places outside of southern Italy where Caciocavallo is made. One of those places is in southeastern Oklahoma where this gourd shaped cheese is made by Sara Testa, a woman who is perpetuating some of the best things of her Italian ancestry.
[Narrator 2:] They came to Oklahoma from many nations. Newcomers to a new land, looking for better opportunities, a chance to begin again and what remains is their heritage. A rich heritage, that has become the Oklahoma image.
[Narrator 1]: Sara Testa left Italy when she was an infant and came to Oklahoma with her parents. Sara's father was an interpreter for the United Mine Workers of America and her mother taught Italian to the children of immigrants so the language would not be lost.
[Narrator 1:] The area around McAlester, Oklahoma became the home for many Italian coalminers who immigrated there toward the end of the last century. Most of them came from the provinces of southern Italy and the miners wives brought with them the recipes for many delicious and unique foods. Women like Sara Testa packed food in lunch buckets for their husbands to take into the mines. It must have been a pleasant break when the weary miners stopped for lunch after hours of hard labor in the dark, dusty mineshaft. The aroma of the lunches so carefully packed must have brought a smile to their coal-blackened faces. The cheese called Caciocavallo, combined with sausage or salami and freshly baked bread, created a satisfying meal for those sons of Italy who worked in the depths of southeastern Oklahoma's coalmine.
[Narrator 1:] When making cheese today, Sara Testa divides her work between night and morning. She always wants plenty of cheese on hand for her five children and their families plus enough to share with friends and neighbors. She begins the process with eight gallons of milk from Jersey cows because that's the way her mother taught her. The milk is heated, causing it to clabber. The curd is kneeded, squeezed and pulled, much like taffy. Then the cheese is shaped into its familiar form. Next it's placed in cool water, then soaked in brine water and hung up to dry.
[Narrator 1:] Originally the cheeses were hung in pairs. Since they were equal weight they looked like saddlebags. That's why Caciocavallo was known as "cheese on horseback".
[Narrator 1:] Sara Testa is an artist at cheesemaking and she shares her art with others. She believes that instruction should be passed down to the younger members of the Italian community in order for the old art to be preserved. Only a few people in Oklahoma can make this cheese and most have been taught by Sara. Several of her students join her every year in making cheese for the Annual Italian Festival held in McAlester. Sara Testa is a unique individual, a hard worker, a widow who put five children through college, a businesswoman who ran an abstract company, an artist keeping Italian tradition alive in her bright, cheerful kitchen in Oklahoma.
[Narrator 2:] This program was produced by the Oklahoma Image Project, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and brought to you as a public service by this station. Oklahoma Image is sponsored by the Oklahoma Department of Libraries and the Oklahoma Library Association.
Requires one of these for listening: Quicktimewww.apple.com/quicktime/download, Windows Media Playerwww.microsoft.com/windows/windowsmedia/download or Real Playerwww.real.com.
Part of the Oklahoma Image Statewide Humanities Project, promoting Newcomers to a New Land book series and the Oklahoma Image Project.
Copyright of this digital resource, Oklahoma Department of Libraries, 2008. For further information regarding use please consult the Rights and Permissions page, http://www.crossroads.odl.state.ok.us/shell/rights.php or contact the holding institution of the digital resource.
Oklahoma Department of Libraries, 200 N.E. 18th, Oklahoma City, OK, 73105