Happiness in simple pleasures

We met Damiano Filosi at Malga Lavanech, where he takes his cows to graze in summer and where he makes some amazing butter and cheese.

It was a late-summer day in 2021 and cooling air and the colors of the landscape gave hints of the approach of autumn. We set out for Malga Lavanech by car from Madonna di Campiglio, crossed the valleys of Val Rendena and the Giudicarie to the beginning of Valle del Chiese. From here, we headed up towards Val di Daone and Val di Fumo before taking the turn up to Malga Lavanech, the road turning to gravel once we had crossed the Chiese river.

through the forests, glimpses of the occasional shelter and a variety of colorful flowersFor those of us who had never been here, the road seemed to never end. As we climbed through the bright forests, we would catch glimpses of the occasional shelter and a variety of colorful flowers in the underbrush. Malga Lavanech (owned by the Town of Valdaone) appeared before us once we had reached an altitude of 1783 meters (5850 feet) and the vista opened out onto alpine pastures overlooking Val di Daone and Valle del Chiese.
Beyond our destination were other alpine farmhouses, high up near the boundary between the pastures and the rocky spires above.

It’s early morning and it’s time for the casarda, when the milk is turned into cheese. A fire is burning in the small dairy’s large stoves positioned beneath the large copper pots used to boil the milk. Here cheese has the deep yellow hue of an alpine meadow in bloomHere, there is no stainless-steel machinery as you would see in more modern dairies. Each and every step of the process is executed with great care and love by Damiano Filosi, who makes the cheese using the milk from his own cows.
His cheese has the deep yellow hue of an alpine meadow in bloom and bears the name Malga Lavanech engraved in the rind. Visitors to the aging room are greeted by an aroma of livestock and the land, softened by floral and grassy notes, and it is here that the caress of time gives this cheese its unmistakable character. The longer it ages, the more concentrated the flavors and aromas become. “With the milk I produce, I make a semi-fat cheese of medium to long aging that features unique traits that can only be found in cheeses made from the milk of livestock raised in mountain pastures,” said Filosi.

With just one taste, you understand how it embodies the essence of the Alps. We buy a fourth of a wheel that we will take back home with pride, along with tales of Damiano Filosi. His butter, on the other hand, is all sold out. Locals and a few others he has gotten to know over the years here in the pastures of Val di Daone had already booked their share of this truly delicious, wholesome butter some time ago.

Malga Lavanech exudes a sense of balance, of delicious foods made in harmony with nature

out of love for all living things, in touch with the traditional rhythm of production, and with a focus on the environment.

Damiano Filosi describes his approach to dairy farming, and we hang on his every word. For him, managing livestock and an alpine farmhouse is about seeking balance in life and with all creation. In terms of operations, his approach is based on the project Inversion, which he has been studying and which he mentions to help us better understand his way of thinking. Inversion is a pilot project developed by the working group Agroecologia per il Trentino with the collaboration of various farms within the outer Giudicarie region and the promotional efforts of the association Ecomuseo della Judicaria dalle Dolomiti al Garda. Agroecology is a science, a discipline and a movement that encompasses the entire food chain and defines a model of mountain agriculture that is more sustainable in its use of local, renewable resources.

Raising cattle is a life choice, and so it was for Damiano Filosi. He started out by attending the Edmund Mach Foundation (FEM) school in San Michele all’Adige, which specializes in agriculture, forestry and environmental studies, but he left the school at a certain point to pursue another path. Eventually, though, he would come back to that starting point to try again. To develop his concept of farming, he took up his studies again and began working alongside those with more experience than him. In the province of Cuneo, he took courses in dairy farming at the Institute of Dairy and Agriculture Technologies in Moretta and did seasonal work in Airolo, Switzerland (in the canton of Ticino) before going back to FEB where he studied farm management.

Five years ago, he decided to come back to the birthplace of his father, in Sevror, to establish the farm he had been planning for years. Today, he raises 16 head of Tyrol Grey cattle, which he milks every day and takes up into the mountains each summer. At his mountain farmhouse, he also handles the livestock of other cattlemen for a total of 80 head, including several Rendena cattle. “My cows stay at pasture six, seven months, from the end of April, early May, to mid-November,” Damiano notes, and he remains there with them.

“It can’t be any other way if you want to do it right, and to make good cheese that shows your handiwork takes continuity.”

“My farm is young, at just over five years, but at 14 I was already working on alpine
pastures, for a few weeks at a time at first and then gradually for longer and longer,” he
explains with a smile. “I’ve always loved raising animals. First it was rabbits and chickens, then you start looking to other livestock until you get up to the biggest.” It’s hard, tiring work.
this job gives you freedom“It might seem strange, but this job gives you freedom,” Damiano continues. “It’s not true that it’s always the same, monotonous. It varies a lot throughout the day, throughout the seasons, which each have their own rhythms and situations to follow, and throughout the year. I’m always outdoors and it doesn’t even feel like work. Sure, the days are long and tiring, but you don’t think about it. Your mind is focused on what needs to be done and, at the end of the day, you don’t feel the need for anything else — to go out to a bar or the movies, or go for a run — because your day has already been rewarding enough on its own.
You’ve got everything you need to make it fulfilling. That’s the secret to success in this job.

And "mi son sempre content [local dialect for “I’m always happy”]"

he concludes, repeating the motto that has made him something of a celebrity online and on social media.

In November, the trip back down the mountain to the valley below will be long — at least 15 days. The herd will be led down slowly from Malga Lavanech to Sevror, one field at a time, accompanied by a curious milking cart that isn’t often seen in the mountains of Trentino.
Damiano Filosi discovered it in Switzerland, where it’s much more common, and used this Swiss version as a model for building a similar one for himself, designed to suit his needs. It’s a great, natural way to protect and care for these mountain landscapes.

Does he live a life isolated from the rest of the world? Not at all. Each summer, young people come to his farmhouse from throughout Italy and around the world, from as far away as New Zealand, to see new places and work in contact with nature. People from different cultures and different ways of life come together here at an altitude of nearly 1,800 meters (5,900 feet).

It’s evening now, and Damiano Filosi, the “Custodian of the Mountains”, has generously
allowed us to enter his world that is at once powerful and delicate, isolated and open, made of a deep respect for animals, for people, for places, and for the rhythms of life.
The dairy products at Malga Lavanech satisfy the palate.

A day spent here feeds the soulOne final update. A year has passed. After his fifth year running the farmhouse in 2021, Damiano is now back at Malga Lavanech, but now, at his side, is his wife, Anna, yet another note of tenderness in the harmony of this pleasant spot in Val di Daone.

Photo and video: Marco Varoli

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