This article is written by Contributing Editor Tony Traficante.
Blessed are the Cheesemakers!
Hey football fans, you think the Green Bay Packers are the original ‘cheese-heads’? Well, think again! Italy creates more than three hundred exceptional cheeses rivaled only by the United States and France in production.
No one knows exactly how cheese came about, or from where. The Nomads are credited as the first to discover cheese, albeit by accident. As they trekked across the hot desert, the heat, the swaying motion of the camel ride, mixed with the rennin in the sheepskin bags, caused their milk to divide into curd and whey…
At least, that’s one version. Another is that farmers, having no refrigeration, salted milk to preserve it, thus causing the milk to curdle.
Italy, as it does with its wines, protects the validity of their exclusive cheeses with a law known as the Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC). Some 26 name-controlled cheeses are protected by this law. (Ignore the law and one will soon hear the heavy knock of the “Carabinieri” at their door).
In Italy, cheese is a regional creation. Just as each region developed its unique dialect, food and wine, so too did they produce distinctive regional cheeses. The type of cheese produced depends on the farm animal predominate in the region (i.e. cow, sheep or goat…and yes buffalo). Although the regions each produce their own variety of cheeses, they do duplicate one another.
In the northwestern region of Lombardi, they produce full-flavored cheeses like Gorgonzola and Taleggio that go well with their full-bodied wine. A special variety of Gorgonzola is aged in caves for a least a year. Also, in the northwest, in the region of Piemonte, they create a creamy, sweet cheese called Robiola Piemonte. It’s a unique cheese made from cow, sheep or goat milk, or the combination of all three.
In Friuli, Alto Adige, and the Veneto, northeastern regions, a firmer cheese, such as, Asiago, is produced and goes well with polenta and the famous “prosciutto di San Daniele.” In the region of Emilia-Romagna, they make the famous pasta topping cheese, Parmigiano-Reggiano, the “king” of cheeses. Parmigiana is usually aged up to twenty-four months and has remained unchanged for some seven hundred years. (If anybody ever tells you, “You use too much Parmigiano on your pasta,” ignore them! You don’t need that kind of negativity in your life!)
Tuscany, Lazio and Sardinia are regions with large sheep populations; they produce Pecorino Romano, with a delicious earthy, nutty, and salty flavor. It is supposedly one of the world’s oldest of cheeses. In Campania, Apulia, Sicilia and Basilicata, southern regions, they make Pecorino, Provolone and Mozzarella cheeses. Theirs is a special variety of Mozzarella, Mozzarella di Bufala, made from the milk of the Italian water buffalo.
Often used as the final “piatto” (in lieu of desert) to a grand Italian meal, cheese remains an important staple on the Italian food table. Italians love their cheese…and, yes, they have a romantic saying for that. This one is special — “La fidanzata e’ latte, la sposa e’ burro, e la moglie e’ formaggio duro.” (A fiancée is like milk; a bride like butter; and the wife is hard cheese).
HEY! I’m just the messenger!
Recipe for Fried Mozzarella – A Southern Italian classic
Cut the mozzarella in 2-3 inch sticks,
Beat 2 eggs
Set aside flour and breadcrumbs as needed & oil for frying.
Roll the mozzarella sticks in flour, dip in egg, and coat in the breadcrumbs.
Place pieces on a cookie sheet covered with wax paper and chill them in freezer for one half hour.
Fry the mozzarella slices for about a minute in hot oil.
Like us on Facebook to receive more recipes, wine and travel.