Monday, 26 March 2012

Our guide to Italian cheeses Part 1

Italy: Excite, Experiment And Enjoy Cooking With Her Cheeses

Cooking in Italy would be impoverished, nay incomplete, without the addition of cheese. Like wine, this precious commodity responds to temperature, humidity, soil fertility human ingenuity and animal husbandry. It’s an organic result of a process dating back at least 8000 years.
Necessity is the mother of invention, the sun’s rays on fresh milk required a method to halt despoliation and preserve a nutritious foodstuff; e cosi, cheese was the solution. Although this technological leap forward appears to have originated from the Middle East it was the Romans who understood how essential this skill could be in shaping cooking back home in Italy.

The Romans were evangelists, spreading the good news across their Empire, but like so many of their aesthetic sensibilities and innovations, at the collapse, the ‘big society’ approach was lost and each region in Italy began to experiment, exploiting their particular geology or climatic variation to develop products which, to this day, vary both season by season or year on year. Nevertheless names such: Parmesan, Grana Padana, Ricotta, Gorgonzola and Burrata are synonymous with cooking in Italy.

These cheeses delight our senses and excite our palettes with their gloriously original and idiosyncratic personalities. Gorgonzola for example collapses in a Victorian swoon at the first sign of heat, whereas Parmessan is stoic, strong and awkwardly rubbery should you overcook it. Grana Padano, on the other hand will exude a sweet, fruity taste whilst offering up a crumbly grainy texture, hence ‘grana’ the Italian for ‘grain’. It’s the Grande Dame of cooking in Italy, having an illustrious 1000 year old history being first produced near Milan by Cistercian monks.

If preservation is the goal, Grana Padano takes the cup as it can last up to two years without harm as a consequence of its slow ripening process and is incredibly popular in Italy’s cuisine. Of course, this being Italy, competition is always bubbling beneath the surface and other grana cheeses are made but Grana Padano will be fire branded to show to whom it belongs, so be certain you check the stamp.

Burrata on the other hand has a transient, fresh beauty which is considered past its best just 48 hours after production. It’s a typical combination of cooking passions in Italy: the outside is solid but inside the reward is a soft slithery textured marriage of mozzarella and cream, burrata after all meaning ‘buttered’.

Join us on Wednesday when we explore more of the delectable selection of cheeses used in Italian cooking!

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