Sandro Gagliardo is an organic cheese maker heading the local cooperative in Varese Ligure, located in the green, well wooded, high Vara Valley. The cooperative was formed in 1978 to sell milk to the industrial giant Parmalat, but prices were low and people were quitting farming because they couldn’t make any money. The valley was faced with serious depopulation until, in the early 1990’s, Mayor Maurizio Caranza came up with a brilliant idea – why not turn the valley organic and build a new economy based on ecology? Farming methods were still traditional and the pasture hadn’t been destroyed by pesticide so, dangling grants from the EU, he convinced villagers to change agricultural practices. Today there are more than 40 organic farms producing milk and meat and agro tourism is booming, visitors attracted by the idea of the “organic valley” Sandro produces 20 different cheeses, 7 of which are completely organic, the rest made from unpasteurised milk. They’re all made using traditional recipes with no preservatives or chemicals and their top organic product is Stagionato de Vaise, aged for 5-6 months. They also produce a version which spends a further 2 months in the local strong Sciacchetrà wine. This is particularly delicious, the longer aging and the flavour of the wine enhancing its taste.