“Don’t let your cows wander off!” Mounted cowboys jest to friends and villagers.
At 4:30 in the morning, the sun in Le Marche is a grey stamp breaking through easterly clouds. Everything is monochrome and sleepy. Two small cars hang orange flags out their windows, taking positions at the head and rear of a mewing herd of cattle. The weather is fair and streets are empty, perfect conditions for ranch owner Piero to move his cows from lowland fields to mountainside pastures.
Transumanza has come.
Down Piobbico’s cobbled main street, a bovine parade begins. Meaning the “pebble”, Piobbico in Italy’s Le Marche region is a stone’s throw away from the Adriatic Sea and several iconic Renaissance towns, including Apecchio and Urbania. Cradled by the Apennine foothills, Piobbico’s central thoroughfare threads past colorful buildings, cafes, and smoke shops. Life is accentuated with family dinners, espresso with friends, and heart-felt handshakes with a local cheese-seller. Chopped wood lay in neat stacks along the road and neighbors help each other can tomatoes for the fall. But in June, when dry weather sweeps through flat farmland, the regular rhythm of country living hums with the annual “moving of the cows”.
If nothing else, La Transumanza is a communal affair. At the head of the herd, three ranchers set the pace. At the rear, mounted cowboys spur the cattle forward. Pulling in the flanks, villagers and guests with walking sticks join the fun. Everyone is welcome to lend a hand, or rather a shepherd’s staff. Hundreds of cows sweep down the long ramp into town. Streetlights snuff out and sunlight fills the valley.
Like a well-oiled machine the cows, herders, and villagers walk through town. Piero watches the cattle, paying particular attention to a young calf only two days old. Horses whicker and cows plod to the far side of town. The column turns right up a grassy slope. Cows munch on hillside vegetation. Singing begins. “Vino!” is shouted. Cow herders joke and Transumanza continues to a blue-sky mountaintop and a picnic lunch, prepared by ranchers’ families. All are welcome. We were invited by Ashley and Jason Bartner of La Tavola Marche.