Last night, I cracked open one of my most valuable souvenirs from my Italy trip – my kilo of authentic Parmigiano Reggiano. Granted, I’ve only been home for 6 days and it wasn’t like I was saving it till Christmas or anything, but cutting open that vacuum sealed package was none the less a bit of a celebration. Good friends Carson and Melanie came by to talk about the trip and look at the multitude of pictures I had taken in Italy, so I thought it would be a great opportunity to try a bit of the cheese as an ‘antipasto’.
I’ve begun my scout of all the wine shops in town to find a variety of Italian wines – yes, I am a geek. I fully intend to milk every drop of my Italian enthusiasm for as long as it lasts. Perhaps until next October when I return to Italy. That aside, I picked up a bottle of white wine from the Orvieto region, called Salviano. This was a lucky choice. I felt like last night was the right time to crack this open, hopefully a good match to the parmesan. I was right (and lucky). The wine is a blend of the typical Trebbiano grape, 30%; Gechetto, 30%; Chardonnay, 20% and Sauvingnon Blanc, 20%.
Now, don’t expect much of an analysis and professional sounding review of the wine. I haven’t reached a point where I feel confident about describing and remembering the nuances of the bottle. But, just thinking that I should makes me want to go back and get another bottle. Yeah, that’s it!
What I can tell you is that the wine was a great cocktail white, smooth enough just to sip, but acidic enough to match up with the creamy, salty Parmesan. I’ve come to know that you don’t need to put anything with Parmesan Reggiano to make the perfect appetizer. Just lay out a chunk and a fork and let your guests break off little bits.
The cheese was like heaven in our mouths, creamy upon the chew and grainy with salt that comes from a bath in a salt water brine that the cheese receives. We were fortunate enough to get to see much of the Parmesan making process when in Italy’s food valley about 11 days ago. In one day, we watched Parmigiano Reggiano made, had lunch, visited a Prosciutto plant, and were given a tour of a Balsamic Vinegar operation in Modena. You’re jealous, aren’t you?
The curd is processed in these huge copper kettles. You can see the steam rising off the cheese. These guys make two huge wheels of Parmigiano in each of the 6 kettles daily. This plant producing 12 wheels per day.
To be called Parmigiano Reggiano, a consortium watches over the operations of all the plants. Milk from cows raised in this one area is used to make the cheese. By products make also butter (which we had – yum!) and other cheeses are also made here, but only a certain process and materials make Parmigiano Reggiano. Every wheel is stamped with the plants information and you can actually track which manufacturer processed the cheese.
We sampled cheese that was 12, 24, and 36 months of age. The brothers who own and operate this particular manufacturing plant, Spaccio & Rocco broke open a wheel for us to sample and had a number of other cheeses available for us to try.
So while I was in the shop (as did others in the group), I bought my kilo of Parmigiano, some other cheeses and some souvenir PR cheese knives to take home to friends as gifts. On our next to last night in Italy, we had a gathering where most everyone brought a little something to the table: cheese, butter, breadsticks (glorious rosemary breadsticks), biscotti, wine, etc. We used the knives to cut up and serve the cheeses.
When the party was over and we headed to the restaurant for dinner, I bundled up the knives and hid them in Tony’s sportcoat pocket, still with cheese clinging to them. Packing up to head back to Louisville a few days later, I absentmindedly placed the bundle in my carry on, not really noticing what they were, just souvenirs.
Security pulls me and my bag aside, and when they unwrapped my little bundle, they confiscated the knives (still crusty with cheese) and copied down my passport information. I suppose I’ll be on file now as a possible terrorist, having 4 Parmigiano Reggiano knives (all of 2 1/2″) in my bag, ready to hand to other cell members to assist in my taking over the plane. America’s most wanted, here I come.