The “butteri” are the traditional horsemen and cattle breeders of Maremma, the region that spans from the plains of northern Lazio to the hills and former marshlands of southern Tuscany.

Butteri are admittedly a macho bunch — working long days herding long-horned maremmana cattle, raising their own hearty breed of horse, and producing organic meat and other agricultural products for food outlets in the area.

Only one woman, Catia Liverani, an environmental guide at the Maremma Regional Park, has ever tried to work as a “buttera” (the female version of buttero) at the prestigious Tenuta di Alberese — a 10,378-acre farm owned by the Tuscany regional government about six miles from the coast — but she didn’t last long in the job.

“Here in Maremma there is a lot of chauvinism,” Liverani said. “In this region, women haven’t become butteri because they have only been able to find work on smaller farms that use tractors instead of horses to herd cattle, or don’t have large wild herds of cattle and horses like at the Tenuta.”

The physicality of the job, low pay and Italy’s recession (the third in a decade) have caused the numbers of working butteri to drop significantly — it is estimated that there are only about 50 working butteri in the whole region.

To preserve the history and traditions of the butteri of Maremma, and to lure its youths back into the agricultural fold, the Tuscany regional government has taken drastic measures — offering a vocational training course called “Rediscovering the Buttero” — to men, and women for the first time ever, who want to become butteri.

The two-month course, which began March 27, was financed using grants provided from the European Social Fund (ESF), and included classes in agronomy, organic agriculture, veterinary science, equine and bovine science, history and traditions of the butteri, along with a practicum of working in a round pen with wild foals, herding cows and large bulls on foot and on horseback, and using traditional maremmano tack and implements for the herding of animals.

Nine women and three men were selected after an initial screening to attend the course.

“It was a surprise more than anything that women were interested in learning this craft,” said Alessandro Zampieri, director of the Zootechnical Department at the Tenuta and a teacher in the program. “Most of the women were very open to what I was teaching.”

A final exam, judged by Tenuta’s head buttero, Stefano Pavin, took place May 27 and included a hands-on exam with horses and cattle, followed by an oral exam.

For the students, it was the opportunity of a lifetime.

“It’s important for young people like me to know this history,” said student Ilenia Patané, 22, an equestrian guide at the private Alberese-based Agriturismo Il Gelsomino. “I learned to work with foals, to use the lacciaia (a lasso), the scafarda (the traditional saddle used by butteri in Tuscany) and a maremmano bridle.”

There is now a glimmer of hope for women from the region seeking happier professional trails. “The future of women is very important in buttero culture,” said Daniela Piandelaghi, coordinator of the program. “This is an experiment — but I know the women of Maremma — they are determined, decisive and brave.”

Though the winner has not been announced, Piandelaghi later said that 11 of 12 students finished the course, and that “the top place went to a woman.”

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