Cheeses of Italy
While in Rome last week I had a cheese course after dinner nearly every night. Like in France (where I had the cheese course after dinner the week before) the waiter brought out beautiful trays of cheeses. Some of the cheeses were mild and some were rather stinky, but all were delicious. Here is a bit about some of the various cheeses of Italy.
Asiago: Named for the plateau at the foot of the Dolomites to the north of Vicenza in the Vento region, is a pale cow’s milk cheese with a slightly sweet taste; aged and hardened it can be grated. It is made in several versions, from a hard, half-fat cheese to a soft, full-fat version.
Britto: From the Sondrio province of Lombardia (the Valtellina) is made of cow’s milk and ten percent goat’s milk.
Caciocavallo: Comes from Southern Italy, where it is stretched and shaped by hand, like mozzarella and provolone. Made with cow’s milk, caciocavallo when it is young has a firm, smooth texture and a mildly salty flavor that grows more pungent as it is aged. It is often made into a gourd shape, and smoked versions are available.
Fior di Latte: Is a soft, fresh cheese from cow’s milk, which literally means, “flower of milk.”
Fontina: Is an unpasteurized cow’s milk cheese, the most authentic and delicious examples of which come from the slopes of the Valle d’Aosta. With its delicate, buttery, nutty flavor, fontina is a favorite for cooking, as it melts beautifully.
Gorgonzola: Is Italy’s most famous blue cheese. It was born in Lombardia, but almost all of it today is produced in Piemonte. Made of cow’s milk, most Gorgonzolas are aged from three to six months. The mildest, sweetest versions (aged for the minimum) are called Gorgonzola dolce; the most pungent, Gorgonzola picante.
Grana: Is a general term for a hard, grainy-textured cheese often used for grating. The original recipes here often called simply for grana, the expectation being that one would use the grana of that recipe’s region. Since these local grana cheeses are not widely available outside Italy.
Montasio: Is a firm cow’s milk cheese similar to Asiago, available aged or fresh. It comes from Friuli-Venezia Giulia.
Mozzarella: Is one of the most famous and widely available cheeses in Italy, though southern versions are considered the best. Mozzarella di bufala is made from buffalo milk rather than cow’s milk, as is most common today. Buffalo milk is creamier than cow’s and imparts a more velvety texture and tangier fragrance.
Parmigiano-Reggiano: Is a hard cheese made from partly skimmed cow’s milk by a centuries-old method in the provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, and Bologna in Emilia-Romagna and Mantova in Lombardia.
Pecorino: Refers to any Italian sheep’s milk cheese (pecora is Italian for “sheep”); of the dozens of varieties of pecorino cheeses, the most famous version is pecorino Romano, which has a sharp and pungent flavor that makes it mainly appropriate for cooking or for grating like Parmigiano-Reggiano. Pecorino dolce is a young and fresh pecorino with a notable sweetness and softer texture.
Provolone: Is a sharp and tangy, firm-textured cow’s milk cheese that originated in the Basilicata region of southern Italy; like gorgonzola, it has lighter-flavored versions referred to as dolce, and stronger-flavored, aged versions referred to as picante. Both versions can also be smoked and are good for cooking.
Ricotta: In Italian means, “Re-cooked,” and refers to a soft, milk creamy-white cheese traditionally made from the whey remaining after making pecorino. Today, most ricotta is made from cow’s milk. It has a very mild, lightly tart flavor and slightly grainy texture. It is also often used in desserts and baking. Ricotta salata refers to ricotta to which salt has been added as a preservative, making it less moist and a preservative, making it less moist and more pungent in flavor than fresh ricotta. Robiola is a goat’s milk cheese that often contains cow’s and sheep’s milk. It has a creamy texture and is not aged beyond three weeks.
Scamorza: From Abruzzo and Molise, is a pasta filate (“pulled or spun dough”) cheese that is shaped by hand, like provolone or mozzarella. A cow’s milk cheese with a mild, creamy flavor similar to mozzarella, it is sometimes smoked.
Taleggio: Is made in the Taleggio Valley north of Bergamo as well as in other centers in Lombardia and in Treviso in the Veneto. Made in square forms, it is a semisoft cow’s milk cheese with a delicate creamy taste but a pungent aroma.
Toma: Toma is also known as tuma and can mean different kinds of cheeses. The first is a smooth, firm, cow’s milk cheese from Lombardia and Piemonte, traditionally aged between three and eighteen months. In Sicilia, toma refers to fresh ewe’s milk curds molded in a basket. In the north, tuma refers to an unsalted goat’s milk cheese.
Constitution Week – Foods of Our Forefathers Part V
In her food preparation and preservation, the early American housewife was tied tightly to the calendar and the clock – much more tightly than today’s homemaker is. Local availability of foodstuffs and the limitations of existing food preservation techniques meant that nature largely called the shots on timing. Fruits and vegetables had to be picked at the right moment and processed quickly. Animals had to be slaughtered at their peak to keep best, and the peak varied from animal to animal. Even cheese and butter had a better likelihood of successful preservation depending on the season of the year in which they were processed.
Weather conditions played a major role: herbs had to be picked on a dry day to retain color and flavor; slaughter had to be done in cold weather to allow the carcass to cool rapidly; milk winters produced little ice for the following summer.
Also, once begun, preservation techniques sometimes had to be carried uninterruptedly through a long and tedious series of steps. There was no turning back – or time for vacations. Hams being cured had to be turned regularly, fish being dried had to be restacked four times a day, pickles had to have their brine skimmed and changed – or the product would be lost.
The labor involved in such food preservation was frequently heavy, but the routine of the rest of the house went on as usual. Organizational ability and endurance were essential, and woe betide the housewife who didn’t “keep up appearances” with her neighbors.
Just as the make-up of the early American’s diet varied with his geographic location, so did his needs – and abilities – in food preservation.
For example, the southern areas had access to a more varied food supply over the course of the year and consequently had less need to provide stores for the hard winter. At the same time, it was more difficult and expensive to get ice for short-term protection against the warmer climate. Ice was actually shipped from Massachusetts to the Southern states and to Cuba and Jamaica in the early 19th century, but it was obviously only available to the wealthier residents. The ice-box itself didn’t become popular until the mid 1800’s.
The shorter growing season in the North reduced the variety of produce available, but it also made cold storage in root cellars practical in small towns and rural areas. Above-ground ice houses and ice-saws, invented in the mid-nineteenth century, drastically reduced the cost of storing ice into the summer, and simplified storage of dairy products, fish and meat.
In many respects, the northern colonies had the greatest difficulty in providing a nutritious, varied diet throughout the year. Although fruits, berries, and summer vegetables were plentiful from the midsummer to early fall, proving vitamin-rich foodstuffs, during the winter and spring took special care. Many food items, of course, could be stored in relatively simple root cellars – where winter temperatures hovered between 30 and 40 degrees. In especially cold weather, a large tub of water was placed on the floor. This water gave off heat as it froze, which kept the vegetables safe. Turnips, beets and squash were kept in the driest areas. Carrots would keep anywhere. Cabbages and celery were buried in sand, cauliflower was set in holes and covered with straw, while cranberries were floated in water in a tub. Other crops were arranged loosely on slatted shelves for free air circulation, sometimes lying on straw.
Some vegetables, such as summer squash and potatoes, kept better at somewhat higher temperatures, and these were usually stored in the dark basement of the home. Temperatures between 50 and 60 degrees were ideal.
Eggs could also be stored in the root cellar, or in the basement of the house. Two methods were common. In one, the eggs (which the housewife was instructed to collect “in fine weather”) were dipped in boiling water for 20 seconds, then coated all over with butter or “sweet oil” (glycerin) and packed in sawdust. They would keep this way for some two to three weeks. Other housewives kept their eggs in crocks, submerged in “water glass” (sodium silicate). In this technique, it was important not to wash the eggs first, since their shells possess a natural coating which prevented the water glass from penetrating through the shell and ruining the egg. Even stored at room temperature, such eggs would keep for several months, while the hens sulked through the dark winter days.
If a family didn’t have room for a root cellar, it could accomplish somewhat the same effect with a pit, with the vegetables in layers separated by straw, and the whole covered with earth. Obviously, retrieving vegetables thus buried was a messy chore, and needed careful planning.
Under either type of storage, frequent examination was necessary, in order to detect spoilage and eliminate those items of fruit or vegetables which had gone rotten. The proverb about “one rotten apple spoiling the barrel” was not taken lightly! In fact, many housewives wouldn’t put apples in barrels, but spread them out, in order to “pick them over” more easily as the winter progressed. Spoiling apples were cut up, and the good parts made into applesauce as the winter progressed. Early cookbooks instructed the housewife to add a teaspoon of tartaric acid to the apples when making sauce late in the winter, as the apples lost their flavor. New Englanders even had a name for the period after the vegetables had spoiled or been used up, but before the dandelion greens appeared. They called it “the six weeks want.”
In the South, storage of this sort was less necessary, and the typical New England vegetables such as Hubbard squash and turnips were rarely seen on Southern menus.
To Be Continued…
Omelets are one of those dishes that you can have for breakfast, lunch or dinner. The versatile omelet is low in calories too especially if you start with one egg and two egg whites (about 100 calories). Add the fillings of your choice and you have a protein packed meal that will satisfy your hunger.
Choose 1/4 cup of one of these cheese for your omelet.
Choose as many vegetables as you want because they are full of fiber and low in calories.
Choose1/4 cup of these delicious proteins.
Choose one of these for a total treat.
I just returned late last night from a Saturday in Providence, Rhode Island. I was lucky to eat a fabulous dinner at my very favorite Providence restaurant, Farmstead. Farmstead hosts a homegrown yet refined style of cuisine by James Beard Award nominated chef/owner Matt Jennings in a wine bar atmosphere, serving cheese plates, house charcuterie and a full bistro-style menu. One of Travel & Leisure’s “Favorite Restaurants for Unusual Couplings.” Reservations are suggested for parties of 6 or more. Farmstead is located at 188 Wayland Ave, Providence, RI; 401-274-7177; www.farmsteadinc.com.
Summer is here and why pay top dollar going out when you can make delicious hot dogs at home? Here is a guide to the different ways Americans make their frankfurters around the country. I had the Sonoran style hot dogs while I was in Tucson in February and absolutely loved them.
New York Style
Served with brown or German mustard and sauerkraut or onions cooked in tomato paste.
Served on a poppy seed bun with mustard, pickle relish, sport peppers, onions, tomatoes, dill pickles and celery salt. Pepperoncini can be substituted for sport peppers.
Kansas City Style
Served on a sesame seed bun with brown or German mustard, sauerkraut and Swiss cheese.
Atlanta “Dragged Through The Garden” Style
Serve topped with coleslaw.
Detroit “Coney” Style
Served with chili, onions, mustard and cheddar cheese.
Served with cream cheese and grilled onions.
Phoenix/Tucson “Sonoran” Style
Served as a bacon-wrapped hot dog with pinto beans, onions, tomatoes, mustard, mayo, jalapeno peppers and cheese.
Austin “Tex-Mex” Style
Served with queso, guacamole and crushed tortilla chips.
San Francisco “Wine Country” Style
Served with red wine caramelized onions and goat cheese.
Miami “Cuban” Style
Served with mustard, pickles and Swiss cheese.
Forget that horrible box stuff and make your own delicious Mac & Cheese. Here is a different spin on the usual cheddar cheese macaroni & cheese dish. Using the brie, cream cheese and mascarpone makes it nice and creamy. I used macaroni pasta here, but you can use pasta shells or farfalle pasta.
2 Tablespoons Unsalted Butter
1/2 Teaspoon Kosher Salt
12 Ounces of Farfelle or Macaroni Pasta or Shells
7 Ounces Brie (Rind Removed) Cut Into Chunks
5 Ounces Cream Cheese Softened & Cubed
3 Large Eggs Lightly Beaten
1 Cup Mascarpone Cheese
1 Cup Grated Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese
3/4 Teaspoon Black Pepper
1/4 Teaspoon Finely Grated Nutmeg
Heat your oven to 375º F. Butter a 2 quart gratin dish. Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil. Cook pasta to al dente and then drain well. DO NOT rinse the pasta. Transfer the hot pasta to a large bowl and toss immediately with Brie and cream cheese until melted and smooth. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, mascarpone and Parmigiano. Stir the egg mixture into pasta. Season with the kosher salt, pepper and nutmeg. Place the pasta into the prepared baking dish. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and serve immediately. Serves 6