Within moments of showing up at Giannetto’s farm, a scrubby stretch of pastures and vineyards a few miles outside the southern Sardinian town of Dolianova, the old man decides that we ought to slaughter a goat. I think momentarily about protesting that a whole beast is too much food for the five people on the farm that day. But I feel it would be rude to refuse the hospitality, as it is woven deeply into the shepherding culture of inland Sardinia. Plus, Giannetto may be graying and portly, but he’s still built like a brick wall. Even a friendly don’t-sweat-it slap on the back with his André the Giant hands would probably send me flying. So I just nod. Within minutes, Giannetto vanishes over a hillock, only to return swinging a baby goat upside-down by the legs; Sardinian tradition maintains that young animals have the most delicious flesh. The kid looks about nonchalantly and does not so much as bleat.
As prodigious head-to-hoof eaters, farmers like Giannetto can render a lot of meat off of even a little corpse like this one. Depending on the occasion, the creature’s blood can be used for a soup like sanguinaccio. The organs can be skewered and wrapped in intestine and diaphragm to make the savory holiday treat su cordula, although the kidneys and testicles are often roasted on their own, and the liver is sometimes eaten raw at the site of the slaughter. The whole goat can be roughly quartered and roasted over an open flame. And if you manage to catch the kid at just the right age—between two and three months old, before it’s started eating grass—you can even make a potent (and ostensibly illegal) form of soft cheese out of the mother’s milk in its raw, steaming stomach.
This peculiar cheese—known as caligù or su callu, depending on whom you talk to—is one of Sardinia’s lesser-known but more ubiquitous specialties. It’s also one of the most primal dairy products you’ll encounter in the modern world. Upon killing a kid, a farmer simply takes its milk-filled stomach, ties it off in a tight knot or sews it shut, perhaps covers it in mesh to keep the flies off, then hangs it from the ceiling of a cool, dark room. He then waits for a few months until the natural rennet within curdles and hardens the milk into a thick, creamy cheese and desiccation tightens the gut into a pungent, leathery rind.