The giant sheep from Bergamo aren’t mythological.
It lives and gets on with life in Lombardy, a few kilometers from Milan, under motorways
where really, it shouldn’t. Here lies an animal that conjours the thought of it trying to cross
the motorway with its shepherd in tow. Here, a city of fashion which never stops, a city
which is contemporaneously never in the past or looking to the future, but always
incredibly within the present.
Yet in Bergamo, the giant sheep is never really consumed, it rarely appears in local recipes,
not even those that date back generations if not in some, castrated form. How can it be that
produce like this, something so readily available not be available to be consumed, whether
it be in the past or present day?
Once upon a time, it used to be sold a lot more in Italy, moreover in Romagna and Le
Marche, whilst today, it is destined for muslim communities. Their recipes call for
traditional ingredients and cuts which require lamb and sheep as their base. Then there is
the Italian palette which has transformed over the century, opting for meals that include
veal and reducing the amount of lamb and sheep meat, moreover, eating lamb only for the
traditional Easter feast.
There is also another factor at play in it’s drastic decline as an ingredient, public
perception. It is perceived, incorrectly, that sheep’s meat is hard to digest, and yet, there is
possibly nothing more delicate as a produce. Sheep graze purely on grass and natural herbs
and through grazing across their territory they also enrich their environment, “fattening”
as the shepherds call it, their own food chain. For that reason alone, they are clean and
resistant creatures that produce a lean meat. Their name in fact is about everything other
than “fat”, it’s about their general size, their bone structure, their wool. Even as a newborn
lamb, they are born relatively large compared to average, growing quickly and can weigh as
much as 160 kilos!
Danilo and Daniele know more about these animals than you could imagine. They have
never missed a birth of a new Giant Bergamasco, and they have never spent more than two
days in the same place since they became shepherds. Daily, they find new areas for the
sheep to feed and are constantly dealing with the concrete motorways and the dangers they
poses for new grazing territories. They have a lifestyle that many of us could never imagine,
distant from the modern comforts we could take for granted.
For example, Danilo Agostini has never done anything else, nor has he ever wanted to; the
heir to a generation of a shepherds, he has spent more time in the fields and more nights in
the caravan which is his home “but this is my job” he tells us, “and you can only do it if you
are passionate about it, and I have loved these sheep more than my wife.” It is this
passion that even his son shares, a passion so strong that when he went to try something
else, he returned to what he and his dad know, and love best.
It’s not even something that Daniele Savoldelli who leads a nomadic lifestyle can get away
from. His approach to social media, posting continuous photos of his routes and his
wildstock have seen him engage with those that would not otherwise know the traditions of
these very particular shepherds. His couldn’t do without his 2000 Giant Bergamasco
Sheep, like they could do without him.
And what about us? Can we continue to live without a supply of meat like theirs? To
renounce a local cuisine that is sustainable and in reality, so close to home?