Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Our guide to Italian cheeses Part 2

Italy: Excite, Experiment And Enjoy Cooking With Her Cheeses

Continuing from Part 1 of Our guide to Italian Cheeses, we now move to southern Italy for a product emanating from Puglia that hasn't yet reached its centenary and is thought to have emerged as a convenient way of using up ritagli, those scraps left in the production of Mozarella. Originally it was wrapped in Asphodel leaves whose greenness guaranteed freshness but these have been replaced, alas, by plastic.

Ricotta, literally translated as ’ re-cooked’ is another softie made of milk whey from sheep, cow, buffalo or goat milk utilised in general cheese production. However, it’s not really a cheese as casein isn’t coagulated and it does spoil very quickly. Chef, Alastair Little’s recipe laid ricotta on sheets of fresh pasta as part of a stuffing comprising Parmesan, nutmeg, spinach and seasoning, this is then rolled up, sealed in foil, poached gently and served with a simple tomato sauce. Its versatility secures its place in the cooking of Italy or you could simply eat it with honey, a little cinnamon, a few hazelnut biscuits (tozzetti) and a sweet white wine if you were feeling particularly lazy.

One cheese synonymous with Italian cuisine is Gorgonzola, a bit of a thug with its bite and saltiness, if made with goats’ milk. It’s a blue cheese crafted since the 9th century but didn’t attain its greeny-blue characteristic tattooing until a couple of hundred years later.

Lombary and Picardy in the north produce most and it enjoys protected geographical status (DOC) and is a product of magic and organisms which produce the veining. It’s a cows milk cheese amalgamated with penicillium. Metal rods are inserted then removed to create tubes for air to pass allowing the mould to metamorphose into hyphae. It is this process that result in this artistry of veining, try it with succulent pears that dribble everywhere for a startling contrast or poach them for a stunning salad served with a mixture of gorgonzola and mascarpone, a confection dreamed up by Peter Gordon.

Which leaves us with Parmesan, we all thought was a powder sold in green, red and white striped small tubs with a sickly aroma, years ago. Nowadays shavings of fresh Parmesan will grace a green salad oiled with a mustard dressing, coat parsnips or form part of a breadcrumb coating for fish which is a distinct no-no within the cooking of Italy. Parmigiano Reggiano is a toughie, hard and granular and taking its name from the region where it was originally produced. As early as the 14th century references to Parmesan were cropping up in literature and even Pepys mentions it when he buried his precious cheese to preserve it from the ravages of the Great Fire of 1666.

Cooking In Italy relies on these beautiful natural products, experiment by all means, but most of all, enjoy.

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