From tasty, crumbly parmesan (paired perfectly with pear), fresh soft cheese that goes spread on a crusty ‘crostino’, or perhaps some blue cheese like gorgonzola whose refined enjoyment makes you glad to be a grown up ? especially when paired with a glass of delicious red wine! ? Italian cheese is fantastic!
So admired is cheese in Italy that there are cheese market stalls, large cheese sections in supermarkets, delis with a extensive selection of cheesy goods, and even dedicated cheese specialty stores. It is also quite common to give a Christmas gift of a cheese wheel paired with some other food item, with some delis even offering gift wrapping services!
Living in Tuscany, or Italy generally, where some of the world’s best cheese is produced, it is one of the joys of life to find small cheese producers and little cheese stores where you can buy pecorino aged in caves (pecorino di grotta), round balls of fresh buffalo cheese, and Parmesan from gigantic cheese wheels broken off into gigantic triangles destined to be grated over steaming dishes of home-made pasta or nibbled over a glass of wine and a long, relaxed conversation about nothing and everything all at once.
Italians may not pay attention to road rules or wait their turn in line so much, but the rules for food pairings, preparation and presentation are stead-fast, and cheese is no exception.
For example, Parmesan can only hail from the Parma area. When being prepared for a cheese platter, it should never be cut with a knife or you will ‘bruise’ it, thus it is ‘snapped off’ into bite size pieces with the point of the knife just lightly inserted into the cheese then expertly twisted to break off chunks. The crumbs that remain can be enjoyed by the person preparing the cheese platter when no one is looking ? or is that just in our household?
Over traditionally prepared pasta dishes, you can serve Parmesan, Ricotta Salata or similar tasty cheese varieties finely grated or shaved.
Gorgonzola is also delicious when cut into small chunks and mixed over perfectly-cooked pasta, placed in a pan over a light flame that will entice the cheese to melt and wrap itself around each curve of the pasta. This dish becomes exceptional when you add in crushed walnuts (which are great for cholesterol) or Italian ‘salsiccia’ sausage (not so great for cholesterol, but certainly delicious!) peeled and broken into little pieces as it cooked through. A dash of pepper, and you have cheesy pasta heaven!
Fresh mozzarella made from buffalo milk is another delicious Italian cheese. Over pizza, in fresh rocket/arugula salad or mixed in with fresh tomatoes and ripped basil (again, never cut basil or it will bruise ? Italian food is so sensitive!) and served over toasted bread for a wonderful bruschetta.
Cheese can be ‘stagionato’ (aged) for several years, or made to be eaten within several days (such as the tangy stracchino). Italians use the word ‘spicy’ (‘piccante’) to explain a bitey/strong-flavoured cheese.
For the ageing process, cheese can be wrapped in various items to give a subtle flavour (such as grape vine leaves, bay leaves, tomato pulp or even wine barrel sediment!) or mixed with herbs, spices or even nuts.
It is best enjoyed with a light Chianti and a wonderful view of the Tuscan hills.
If you would like an unforgettable day out in Tuscany involving stunning views and a typical Tuscan lunch and/or wine tasting, we’d be happy to accompany you! We have an extensive range of small-group Tuscany tours, including lunch and/or wine tasting.
To learn more in-depth Italian recipes in a hands-on cooking class, making traditional Tuscany recipes. We also have a market tour followed by an Italian cooking class available where you can learn more about the delicious, traditional ingredients.
Artviva is a proud supporter and member of Slow Food, and specialises in small-group, quality (and fun) tours in Florence/Tuscany, Rome, Venice and beyond. Visit www.italy.artviva.com for more information, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.