Cheese rolling. An Easter classic? Could anything make less sense than bunnies laying chocolate eggs? I was almost starting to make that abstract concept work, when along comes cheese rolling. What could the seasonal tie-in be? The sport itself seems to be the slightly wacky offspring of a union of bowling and golf. Not a very wide spread sport, it may be only practiced high on this Umbrian hill here in Panicale, for all I know. What I do know is that it takes place every year on the Monday after Easter, Pasquetta (little Easter), and is called by the locals Ruzzolone.
There is a course in the streets around the village walls. Whoever "bowls" their Big Cheese around the course in the fewest "strokes" wins. The Gioccatori wrap leather straps with wood handles around the cheese and send 4 kilos of cheese lurching wildly down the curving street. The cheese rolls, the crowd runs along side of it and someone marks where it wobbles to a stop with chalk on the street. That is, when it stops on the street. Being cheese, it is a bit hard to control and the pecorino often wheels off the course and starts bouncing down the hillside, through the olives, local officials in hot pursuit. Or the cheese will get wedged under the one Fiat Uno that didn’t get the No Parking message. The winner gets the cheese our friend Francesco tells us. Not that I know what someone would want with a cheese that has really “been around”. Up and down the streets of Panicale for hours. As Francesco says “maybe they should give it to the losers”! If the cheese breaks mid course everyone “wins”. Si Mangia!
Long before our first outdoor cheese race had conclused, the crowd had heard the band “music” off in the piazza and had wandered that direction for the milling about, the free wine and free hard boiled eggs being served by the aptly named Pro Loco committee. But, what a sight the band was. Reminiscent of the finest Fellini. They were named “Bandaccia” (bad band) and pots and pans and car horns and stuffed animals were involved, as I recall. Even so, we’re counting the days till this year’s Running of the Cheeses. Happy Pasquetta!