Cacio al Fuso
The fact that even Carlo Magno liked the local cheese, or “cacio” as they call it here, is not really remarkable, as even emperors have their own tastes. It is extraordinary however that after all a minor episode has been passed down for over a millennium. “So,” as the Pientini like to say, “something must even be true!”
Here are the facts: it was the spring around year 800 and Carlo Magno was ravelling down the Italian Peninsula heading to Rome to be crowned Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire by Pope Leone III. He made a stop at Corsignano, a small town near Siena that some centuries later would be transformed by the will of another pope - Pius II - into Pienza, a town of extraordinary architectural balance. He decides then to accept hospitality and something to eat, which were supplied by the abbot of a nearby monastery. The dinner was very modest: nothing more than a few slices of bread savoured only with some local cheese.
The abbot expected to be severely reprimand for not being able to put on the table a food more suited to the guest nobility; instead, with big surprise and satisfaction he had the compliments of Carlo Magno; he found that pecorino cheese so tasty that he even asked for some whole cheeses to take with him for the trip.
At Pienza people are glad to explain why their cheese is so good: the sheep that graze in meadows of the hills surrounding the town eat some quality of herbs that only here are mixed in the correct proportions.
Against this background no wonder that the Pecorino di Pienza is surrounded by a kind of worship and in his honour it has been organized, for centuries, a celebration.
How and when it started it is not known. What we see today is perhaps the result of a few changes that have occurred during the centuries. People like to think that the game of ”Cacio al Fuso” (literally: cheese to the spindle) was born in the large yard of some farmhouse situated in one of the thousand folds of those rolling hills.
The game is simple: a wood spindle (a tool that never fails in the homes of pientini pastors) is arranged in a gap between two bricks on the floor and then, by a predetermined distance, whole cheeses are tossed as near as possible to the spindle. The maximum target is to make the cheese actually touch the spindle, without falling on one side.
Years and centuries have passed and the game has acquired the nobility that only time can give. From the farmyards of modest houses it has been moved in the most beautiful square of Pienza, the one dedicated to his most illustrious citizen, Enea Piccolomini, that was Pope Pius II.
CACIO AL FUSO AT A GLANCE
Where: Pienza. The main square in the town centre.
When: The first Sunday in September.