My Love Affair with Cheese: Parmigiano-Reggiano

You already know that I love cheese, but as of April, it got a little bit more serious.

My cousin and I took a trip to the Emilia-Romagna region in Italy, which is the land of Lambrusco wine, balsamic vinegar, prosciutto, mortadella, bolognese sauce, and Parmigiano-Reggiano to name a few.

As the geek that I am, I made sure to include a tour of a Parmigiano cheese factory. And no, they did not pay me to share the link, but that’s how good it was. It was so cool! So much so, that I’m still nibbling on the cheese I brought home with me, as I type this up. Don’t worry I stocked up.

First and foremost, it’s not called parmesan, and only cheese produced from the makers within the region approved by the consortium, can be called Parmigiano-Reggiano. They are all made under strict guidelines, inspected and stamped. It must be DOP approved, which means protected designation of origin.

Now enough with the lesson.

We got to see the milk boil, thicken, cut, shaped and packed into rolls. So geeky yet so fun to watch! Also, I now understand why there is writing on the rind. They use a rubber film, imprinted with the name and the DOP license number to show that it’s authentic.

My favorite was seeing the salting process. They literally put the rolls in a bath of salt water for dayssssssss. I had the chance to taste the water it was bathing in, and it was salty enough to give me high blood pressure on the spot. But that’s ok, that’s what makes it taste so good.

Next, we got to visit the room where the aging takes place, and there was more cheese in the room than people. And you know how I feel about being overwhelmed by food? I was smiling from ear to ear! Maybe that’s how shopaholics feel when they are overwhelmed by clothes at their favorite stores? I wouldn’t know.

The tour got more real when we had the chance to go to the stables, and meet the cows who produced the milk. It doesn’t get more farm to table than that. It also made me happy that the cows and their young were being treated well, fed natural grass, and allowed to go running in the field after.

At the end of the tour, I was able to purchase a few chunks to take home for family and friends. Although, I ran through my 48 month aged piece in 2 weeks, and currently snacking on the 24 month aged cheese I got my grandmother

And the highlight of the trip, was visiting Osteria Francescana by Massimo Bottura in Modena. His restaurant is rated #2 in the world, and I totally understand why. It’s based in a region with amazing ingredients, and they aren’t afraid to use them in a creative way.

My favorite memory was a dish strictly made of Parmigiano called “Five ages of Parmigiano-Reggiano in different textures and temperatures”, where all of my senses were engaged.

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Fives Ages of Parmigiano-Reggiano
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Bio Reggiani Dairy

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The plate began with a creamy sauce of Parmigiano, which I seriously wanted to lick off, as well as two soft textured cheeses similar to a ricotta, one very close to a souffle. It’s wrong of me to use the word ricotta, but I am trying to give you some imagery here, so bare with me. Next there was a foam like texture, and the final piece was a galette or crunchy cracker, as the cherry on top.

Side step- the galette would make for a great snack when I’m crashing at 3pm at work.

Each of these five stages was made of pure cheese, of different ages, and the dish was by far my favorite at Francesca. Totally worth the 4am wake up call, several months in advance, for the reservation alone. It also helped that we had passed Cheese 101 only a day  before, to give a shit about the complexity of the dish.

The entire experience at Francescana was too good to be true, and more to come on that later.

Now that I’m back home, I made cacio e pepe pasta with plain elbow macaroni, with a generous portion of the 48 month aged Parmigiano. It was so good, that I scraped the pan, and licked the leftover cheese on the spoon I cooked it with. We also made mac and cheese, and it was so much better than usual!

I have realized that Parmigiano-Reggiano is officially my magic potion. Though realistically it could also be nostalgia after eating it everyday for a week back in April. I have to check myself sometimes, sorry.

I promise however, that it was very very good.

But the moral of the story is that, we tend to  undervalue Parmigiano and have been seriously missing out. Next time you go to pick up cheese at the store, don’t be afraid to pick up Parmigiano-Reggiano and eat it alone, or with crackers. It doesn’t have to be something to top your pasta with, as long as it’s the real DOP deal.

But also, don’t buy cheese which is just called “parmesan” because that means it’s not as good and that you’re honestly selling yourself short. And we are not in the business of living a partly fulfilling life! Even worst, never buy boxed cheese from the counter, to top your pasta with because let’s face it, it’s not even cheese.

The experience opened up my eyes to the value of cheese, to the importance of proper sourcing, and to the endless possibilities in transforming cheese. It made me fall in love with cheese all over again.

 

A Sweet Escape in the Heart of Miami

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When I eat well, my pallet and my heart are so joyful that they liberate me from the everyday and allow me to savor the magical moment- the meal in question.  However, great food entails more than taste; it must also be soulful, and earlier this week at The Cypress Room, I was permitted to cherish the pleasures of food well beyond my pallet. The experience was more than just gastronomic, it was emotional.

From the moment I entered the room, the warm lighting and the pink wallpaper welcomed me home, yet took me back in time. I would have loved to experience the roaring ’20s and the chandeliers and intimate environment just about offered that opportunity, while my short hair and my red lipstick fit the scene. Simultaneously, the wall mounts and the pecky cypress panels dare to combine a rustic look with the chic décor. This is what Miami is all about, being daring and escaping; which The Cypress Room embodies through portraits commemorating Florida landmarks and people savoring the indulgences that Miami represents. The Cypress Room found a way to achieve that sort of audacity while remaining composed.

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The evening started off on a romantic note with an aperitif at the bar. I went with the “Go Lightly”, a mix of : cocchi americano, st. germain, sparkling wine and topped with a lemon peel. The beverage was as simple as it was complex. It emitted just the right balance of sweetness with a touch of bitterness, as the flavors developed further and further. Needless to say that I was saddened at the last sip, but my pallet was well prepared for what was to come.

We were welcomed by an amuse-bouche, a creamy celery and potato soup, which both refreshed and set the stage. As the meal had officially begun, I seized the chance to be adventurous by trying the marrow bones as an appetizer. They were topped with parsley, with flavors of preserved lemon and served with garlic toast. I squeezed on some additional lemon and was pleasantly surprised by the dish’s decadence. The filling was rich, yet perfectly acidic, while the garlic toast melted in my mouth. Oooh the parsley…it made me feel as if its true power had been kept secret from me, until that very moment. I shared a topped toast with a friend, but I must admit that I did so reluctantly. I enjoyed the bones with some Jarancon Sec, and knew that this would be no ordinary meal.

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I followed with the duck, served two ways. The succulent breast is presented in chunks, which were so tender; however the roulade took my breath away. Formed using the leg meat, it was shaped as a small cup, with every bite dissolving on my tongue more quickly than I would wish.  At the suggestion of our Maître D’hôtel, I paired it with a glass of Nebbiolo, which perfectly complimented the dark meat. The French techniques were evident, while keeping true to the freshness and authenticity of the ingredients. The sides merely consisted of brussels sprouts and a beet-date purée, but saying merely is blasphemy. I am not ashamed to say that I cleared every ounce of the purée using the duck breast as my weapon, although it may have been a bit rude, now that I remember my table manners. Meanwhile, each layer of the sprouts was peeled which retained its crispiness, offering balance to the dish’s many textures and flavors.

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Although I attempted to focus only on my orders, I could not help myself at the sight of the côte de boeuf. Once prepared, it is presented at the table whole, then taken to the kitchen for carving before serving. I enjoyed the show, but had to taste it for myself. I thus stole a slice, with a touch of béarnaise sauce and was speechless. With just the right amount of fat on the meat and the ideal level of creaminess and acidity, it was perhaps one of most heavenly pieces of beef I have ever enjoyed. That was when I lost touch with reality.

I took part in the conversation of course, but was swept away to another world.  To continue, I chose the maple semifreddo for dessert, with hot bourbon cider and medjool leather. The bourbon cider was poured over the semifreddo, at the table, adding to the anticipation. The beauty in this dish, is its evolution as it melts. The taste develops and the dates at the bottom emerge more and more, crowning the meal overall as the adventure that it was.  However, my gourmand character did not stop there. I ventured into the bay leaf ice cream. Who would have thunk it? It was so delicate, yet creamy and sweet and maybe savory. Each of these characteristics shines through every spoonful, which evidently leaves you to keep digging.

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Just when I thought that my vacation was coming to an end, we were treated with mini espresso macaroons, which were as pleasing to the sight as they were to my lips. I thus skipped out of The Cypress Room, but retained my high spirits, like a girl in love, which I was. With the food. And the drinks. I had gained an incomparable sentiment, one that food alone was not responsible for. The Cypress Room had given me more than a meal, but an escape, in the heart of Miami.

-Kris

Kristina is an employee of The Genuine Hospitality Group and a food blogger at Tasting It Like It is. Follow her on instagram @tastingitlikeitis

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A Taste & A Cause

I have always kept a place in my heart for philanthropy. Evidently food holds a piece of my heart as well, thus when I was informed of a way to combine both passions, I jumped on the opportunity.

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Loews Miami Beach

 

Taste of the Nation is a yearly event, where restaurants and food shops join forces to raise money, to feed hungry children. Chefs Allen Susser and Timon Balloo, led the South Florida portion, hosted at the Loews Miami Beach hotel.  Well-known restaurants in Miami and Fort Lauderdale, showcased items from their menu and guests were able to taste, for a flat rate entry fee, all in support of the cause. General admission was priced at $125; however, I obtained a discounted ticket from Gilt City Miami at $75. Go Gilt!

 

The event was well organized and the venue was ideal. Loews offered a large banquet room where over 50 restaurants were set up in a circular format around the room, with a few islands at the center, primarily with drinks and desserts. There was also a stage at the front of the room, with live music, and space for speakers as well.  J’avais l’embarras du choix!  With so many tasty treats to sample, and a glass of wine in hand, constantly being refilled, I felt as if I needed an assistant or a second pair of hands to help juggle it all. But no complaints, being overwhelmed by fine foods is a good problem to have.

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Onli Soda

 

A memorable drink stand was Madeira, showcasing Sangria and Moscato, served with fruits. I found the Moscato evidently sweet, but not overpowering, and perfect for a girl’s night in.  In addition, I fell in love with the fruit sodas from Onli, particularly the pomegranate & strawberry. The drinks are light and Onli also offers the option of unsweetened flavors. I also enjoyed the Sancol Prosecco from 7 Import & Export. It was easy on the palate, but not too airy, yet affordable enough for casual day drinking.

 

I will begin with some of my favorite dishes.  I must first warn you that with so many flavors, my descriptions may be short, which only reinforces how much I enjoyed the event and supported the cause. Also, my stomach did not allow me to visit all stands, but again, it was a pleasure.

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Northern Thai Sausage
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Pork Shoulder & Buttermilk Biscuit

 

The 50 Eggs Inc. stand, showcased Yardbird and Swine, Southern cuisine, as well as Khong River House with a focus on Northern Thai cuisine. I sampled a spicy Northern Thai sausage topped with housemade crispy pork skin. The sausage was oh so juicy and the pork skin was like a chip with pork flavor. It was not overly fattening and despite the amount I ate that evening, it will forever be remembered.  Meanwhile, Yardbird presented a country fried pork shoulder, over a buttermilk biscuit, with picked red onions served on the side. The shoulder was perfectly toasted and the biscuit, as one of the best in South Florida. Yardbird has successfully presented quality Southern food and portrayed it as fine dining, as it deserves; something unaccomplished in Miami in the past.

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Grilled Cheese

 

In reference to comfort foods, the Daily Melt stand was a pleasant surprise. I tasted a grilled cheese sandwich, with truffle oil, butter, provolone and cheddar, accompanied by a slice of pickle. It was grilled cheese done right! Now I know how to satiate my melted cheese cravings.

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Cavatelli

 

On the truffle note, Dolce Italian dressed a creamy parmesan cavatelli with truffle shavings. The dish was also accompanied by asparagus and the portion was surprisingly large, provided the setting. Again, no complaints. I finished the plate and made a note to visit the restaurant soon. As simple as it may have been, the pasta was fresh, comforting and creamy to the perfect extent.

 

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Poached Shrimp

 

My next stand was Little Palm Island from the Keys. They served a poached shrimp with boniato mash, sweet corn salad and a roasted red onion vinaigrette. I cleared the plate quickly, especially as it was served warm. The potatoes were very smooth and the sweet corn effectively balanced the dish. It definitely encouraged a trip to the Keys.

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Bacon Marmalade Crostini

 

Oak Tavern made me love bacon again! The bacon marmalade crostini, with hints of rogue blue, immediately woke up my taste buds. It was juicy, yet sweet and salty. This is where bar food and fine dining join forces!

 

On a lighter note, sushi lovers rejoice! Zuma served a seared salmon shashimi with caviar, which blew my socks off. The salmon was outrageously smooth and naturally sweet if I dare say.

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Shrimp Ceviche

 

Speaking of sweet, Wynwood Kitchen & Bar offered shrimp ceviche with a pineapple coconut sauce, yielding to a refreshing and sweet kick. It was the perfect transition to dessert.

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Chocolate Cheesecake

 

Susie’s Scrumptious Sweets was one of my favorites stands in general, not particularly in the dessert category. They artistically crafted a key lime cheesecake and a chocolate cheesecake in mini popsicles. The chocolate was decadent, but the key lime was sublime. The surrounding icing complimented it very well and the filling’s acidity was perfectly achieved, as key lime pie often runs the risk of an overly sour taste. I was pleased. Susie’s also showcased a larger red velvet cake popsicle; however, it was not as moist as the cheesecakes.

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Key Lime Cheesecake (White) & Red Velvet Cake (Orange)

 

Although I enjoyed all visited stands, some items were less favorable. The Federal shared crawfish and grits with corn. The grits were very creamy, but unfortunately, the corn overpowered the dish and the presentation took away from the fine dining experience.

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Veal Ravioli

 

Bianca at Delano, offered veal ravioli, artfully plated for the event and sprinkled with breadcrumbs. Despite the presentation, the sauce was highly acidic, which reduced the dish’s enjoyment.

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Meatball & Crostini

 

In addition, The Palate Party served Angus beef meatballs with whipped ricotta, picked garlic and a crostini.  I find that the dish was not fit for transport, thus the meat and crostini’s texture were negatively affected. In short, it was mushy, and the sauce was quite mild.

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Guest Stealing A Treat

 

Nonetheless, I enjoyed the event quite a bit and only left due to the limited capacity of my belly. I was proud to be apart of a soiree, raising money to feed the hungry, while satisfying my palate and curiosity alike. I applaud ALL participants for their efforts and generosity and look forward to next year’s Taste of the Nation South Florida. In the meantime, I will be planning visits to some of the aforementioned restaurants.

 

Kris

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