Parmigiano Aging in Emilia Romagnia

Parmigiano Aging in Emilia Romagnia

Cheese. Who doesn't love it? The variety is immense, and whether you prefers soft, mild cheese or aged, pungent cheese, there is something for almost everyone! But there can be only one "King of Cheese" - Parmigiano-Reggiano, also known as "parmesan" to Americans. Those who are only familiar with the tasteless industrial powder labeled "parmesan" in American supermarkets might ask what makes this cheese so special, but anyone who has had the opportunity to eat a chunk taken directly from the center of an aged wheel of Parmigiana-Reggiano would understand its greatness.

This firm, granular cheese has a long history and has been lauded by such greats as Boccaccio in the 14th century, Samuel Pepys in the 17th century, and even Casanova in the 18th century, but proof of its similar production to what we find today goes back to the 13th century in Babbiano, in the region of Reggio- Emilia.

In fact, like many Italian wines and olive oils, the production of Parmigiano-Reggiano is DOC - or a product that has a protected designation of origin, meaning cheese produced outside of the region cannot call itself by this name. Anything called "parmesan" is simply a knock-off, and it's perhaps more obvious to spot its imposition than any Louis Vuitton or Gucci knock-off purse!

This versatile, ancient cow-milk cheese has an aging process of anywhere from 12-36 months and can be used shaved over pastas, salads, and soups, the rind can be boiled to enhance the taste of soup broths, it can be roasted and served as a snack, it can be served alone as an appetizer, and a hollowed-out wheel can be re-filled with the cheese and served for special occasions, such as wedding receptions.

Be sure to find a good Italian specialty store where you can buy a nice, big wedge! Don't worry, it stores for a long time, and it'll go fast, anyway...)!

Fun Fact: the leftover whey from Parmigiano production is fed to the pigs that produce Parma Ham, aka prosciutto.

Posted
AuthorCharis McCullough

Our beloved breakfast drink - cappuccino - comes to us thanks to the 16th century conflict between the muslim Ottomans and the Western European Catholics, specifically in the Italian regions. The Pope of the time called upon the friar of the order of the "Cappuccini" (so called for their habits which had a particular hood - or "cappuccio"), Marco d'Aviano, to go to Vienna to ask European powers for help to defeat the Ottomans. At the moment, Vienna was held under siege by the Turks, but when liberated, they fled, leaving hundreds of pounds of coffee. The Viennese took advantage of the looted goods and opened their first caffé. When our noted friar entered to try this new "black water", he considered it far too bitter and asked for something "Christian" to add to it to sweeten its taste (not sugar, as it was Arabic). They added cream, as milk was not drunk at this time, and the bar-tender claimed it mirrored the friar's habit, claiming, "kaputziner"! - or "cappuccino"! Thus, our beloved coffee became "christened" cappuccino in honor of the courageous, peaceful friar.

The story goes on throughout the centuries, evolving the drink to what it is today, and now it has become a certified Italian product, with strict regulations as to how to make it the "official" way. Just remember, when in Italy, it should be ordered BEFORE 11am! After that time, stick to regular espresso, or espresso "macchiato" - an espresso with a splash of milk.

Posted
AuthorCharis McCullough
Bruschetta and Basil Olive Oil

Bruschetta and Basil Olive Oil

 

Bruschetta (pronounced brus-KATE-tah), - no "sh" sound here! - is a popular appetizer in Italian restaurants, but the bruschetta known to most countries outside of Italy consists of toasted bread and tomato. While that is also served, did you know that the most common form of bruschetta is actually a simple drizzle of high-quality olive oil on toasted or grilled bread? This is a common and healthy way for families to complete a dinner. Going out to eat in Italy, you'll most likely find "bruschetta mista" - mixed bruschetta - under the appetizers, and what will be served is likely according to the chef's fantasy or what is fresh and in season, with toppings such as: prosciutto, olive spread, pesto, cheese spreads, roasted peppers, the classic caprese with mozzarella, tomato, and basil, and much, much more! The sky is the limit when making your colorful, elegant, yet simple appetizer - just be sure to use high-quality ingredients, and your bruschette miste will be a hit at any dinner party

Posted
AuthorCharis McCullough

Cheesecake and Dark Chocolate gelatos

When one thinks of Italian food, it's impossible not to imagine gelato -perhaps thanks to Audrey Hepburn enjoying a cone on the Spanish Steps in "Roman Holiday" - but the fact is, gelato is as much a part of the Italian culture as is pizza, and one can find a gelateria almost anywhere in Italy just as easily as one could find a Starbucks in Seattle. With the days getting warmer, it's common to see people enjoying their "merenda" - afternoon snack - of gelato while taking a "passeggiata" - a stroll - with friends. And it's easy to see why...that dense, cool, milky texture...that rich, intense flavor...so what is it that makes gelato so special?  What are your favorite gelato flavors?

Posted
AuthorCharis McCullough

Fresh Tagliatelle 

Trivia time - how well do you know your pasta history?

Those who thought that Marco Polo introduced Italy to pasta when he returned to his homeland after a voyage to China must be from America. Because, in 1938 the Macaroni Journal publicized this romantic story in its magazine  to entice Americans to eat pasta - an effort by the government to increase the consumption of its funded wheat production!

In reality, pasta has a much longer history in Italy. Depictions of sheets of pasta which were then dried - known as “laganon”, or “lasagna” - exist from Etruscan tombs from the 9th-10th centuries BC, and Greek and Latin poets and philosophers wrote of it already from the 5th-8th centuries BC.

Pasta as we know it, however, seems to come from the Arab invasion of Sicily circa 1000 AD, as documents still exist of the writings of Arab philosopher Ziryab describing in 1058 the diffusion of dried pasta similar to spaghetti throughout Southern Italy.

Since the Byzantine age, pasta rapidly became diffused throughout the rest of Italy, as it was cheap, easy to transport, and lasted a long amount of time, which was particularly useful for sailors. While a widely-consumed food, It wasn’t until the late 19th/early 20th century that pasta would become a refined dish eaten by all. It was once the poor man’s food, served plain without sauce, eaten with one’s hands, as utensils were expensive. Eventually, the myriad varieties of pasta would become the staple of the Italian diet and one of the most beloved foods in the world.

Posted
AuthorCharis McCullough

Aperol Spritz at Fluid, Rome - one of the city's best aperitivo spots.

Now that you've read about Italian aperitivo, I thought we'd talk about one of Italy's most popular aperitivo cocktails, the Spritz. This refreshing orange drink originated in the late 19th century in the Triveneto area when the then occupying Austrian soldiers asked bar tenders to add water to the local wine, which was more alcoholic than they were used to back home. This is likely where the name "spritz" came from, as the Austria-German verb "spritzen" means "to squirt" - the action of adding the last bit of sparkling water - or now, Prosecco (sparkling wine), to the cocktail.

It gained popularity in the early 20th century with the introduction of seltzer water from Germany, especially because finally noblewomen could "afford" to drink the low-alcoholic drink with a touch of glamor. Then, after WWII, it really took off when it became associated with the alcoholic additions of Aperol, Campari, and Select.

Now, one traveling to Italy can not go to a single town without seeing a variation of this orange-colored bitter drink during the hours of aperitivo. Give it a try - it might seem strange at first, but the bitter flavor will quickly become your preferred Italian aperitivo drink!

Want to learn to make your own spritz at home? It's easy! In a wine glass half full of ice, combine one part Aperol or other bitter of your choice, one part Prosecco or other sparkling wine, and one part sparkling water. Finish it off with a slice of orange or a couple of thick shavings of orange zest. (That way you get the delicious fresh orange oils!) 

Posted
AuthorCharis McCullough

Aperitivo at Fafiuche in Rome's Monti Neighborhood

Italians are social. Extremely social. So going for an "aperitivo" - going for a pre-dinner drink - is more than an opportunity to simply open the stomach for dinner; it is a time to sit back and relax with friends while slowly sipping a cocktail or a glass of wine. Instead of alcohol prices being reduced as they are for the American happy hour, they are usually a bit higher, therefore the incentive is not to drink more but to linger and enjoy your company.

And since getting drunk is usually frowned upon by Italians, aperitivo is always served with something to nibble on so as not to drink on an empty stomach. This can be anywhere from potato chips to various panini to an entire buffet spread with everything from pasta to vegetables to fruit - all at no extra cost. The last has become a particularly popular way to “dine out” for those looking to spend less for dinner, as it is usually fully acceptable to get refills without paying for another drink and can cost anywhere from 5 euros to 15 euros.

So, good food, cocktail, and good company - now who's ready for dinner?

Posted
AuthorCharis McCullough

Lemon and Strawberry Granita

It's getting hot in Italy. Very hot, especially in Rome. So it's no wonder why well-to-do ancient Romans escaped the heat by heading to their vacation homes in the Italian country-side, on its islands, or on the sea-side. They would also cool off by going into their special underground snow stores to make a version of a snow cone, topping it with fruit and flower juices.

The Arabs introduced sherbet to Italy during their Sicilian domination, which were refreshing ice drinks also topped with fruit/flower juices. Sicilians would later store ice and snow from the massive Mt. Etna and other mountains nearby, so the star ingredient was always available to make a nice, cool summer treat, much like we have today! Up until the 19th century this cool drink was called "rattata", short for "grattata" - or "grated" - for grated ice.

In the 20th century, this Sicilian drink would become known as the famed granata, now available throughout Italy and the world. This cool, refreshing drink is made simply from ice, sugar, and fruit juice or other ingredients, such as coffee (especially in Messina), cocoa, and almond, and is even consumed for breakfast with a brioche in Sicily during the summer. The consistency of the ice varies from city to city within Sicily, some preferring larger granules while the eastern cities seem to prefer a smoother, homogenous ice. Any way it is served, it is refreshing and delicious and certainly needed after a hot day of visiting Italian sites!

The best part is that it's almost too easy to make your own. Want to give it a go? Try our recipe. Trust us, you'll be hook'd.