Italy, a country that cherishes it’s nationally protected products such as its precious wines, cured meats, and olive oils, was completely devastated to discover that 25% delicious bufala mozzarella cheese coming out of central Italy was being diluted with cow’s milk!
Theoretically, bufala mozzarella is made with the milk of the Asian black water buffalo, that (as the story goes) came over with the Norman kings in the year 1000. Italian farmers have cherished this breed of buffalo since the 1200s.
Unlike cow’s milk mozzarella cheese, bufala mozzarella is a richer and creamier version, used on neapolitan style pizza, caprese salads, and various other delicious recipes.
This is a huge scandal in the world of cheese and Italian food! Bufala mozzarella tainted with 30% cows milk!! AN OUTRAGE!!!!!
To read more about the crazy ordeal, check out the article
This isn’t the only blow to this cheese’s reputation, “In 2008, tests at hundreds of mozzarella plants showed that the cheese was being produced with milk that contained dangerous levels of dioxin, and mozzarella sales plunged.”-ABC news
What is gastronomy? What is it about food that fascinates readers so immensely, making audiences eager to digest every delectable detail? To link the two concepts, I offer a simple analogy of food and gastronomy. Food is the brick, culture and history are the mortar in building the edible sanctuary that is Gastronomy. Stated clearly, Gastronomy is a multileveled, interdisciplinary, interpersonal, and active way to approaching subjects of food, cooking, and most importantly eating.
But! There is an important disconnect here to be explored. While food and cooking traditions have been a part of our global society since the invention of the wheel, gastronomy, comparatively, is an innovation that has begun to take our society by storm relatively recently. Though initially the notion of gastronomy was thought to be limited to the ‘high culture,’ those that could afford expensive ingredients who had the time to care, there has been a sharp change in the definition and access to the term.
What sparked this change? Aside from various cooking shows that have popularized this post-modern interest in food and culinary culture to the general public, the vast accessibility of the internet has given gastronomy its true ‘facelift’, allowing anyone and everyone to discuss their personal recipes, food opinions, restaurant reviews, and general shared excitement for eating. This limitless forum has taken over the blogosphere, making food blogs an incredibly fun and easy way to spread the word on the world of gastronomy.
Serious Eats (www.seriouseats.com) is an American food blog that I have been following for some time. The website advertises itself as both a food blog and a community which is a true and important detail about the site. Rather than being just one author, the site allows readers to interactively contribute their ideas, recipes, food photos, and reviews which has truly helped the site grow over the years. Though this is an example of a more sophisticated food blog, directed for those living in metropolitan areas, it is a great resource to discover new restaurants and recipes from users just like myself as well as professionals.
Conversely, This Is Why You’re Fat (www.thisiswhyyourefat.com) is a completely different type of food blog, and definitely not for the faint of stomach. Unlike Serious Eats, which celebrates food for its diversity and cultural importance, This Is Why Youre Fat is a blog that bastardizes food through disgustingly unhealthy food concoctions. Despite the some of the stomach wrenching images, the website has seen great success, and has even published a book full of the calorific delights. An important detail to note is that This Is Why You’re Fat is based entirely off user contributions to the website, making it an interactive and communal experience.
The contrast in the aforementioned websites shows the interesting juxtaposition in our society’s approach to food and gastronomy within the microcosm of the internet, though these opinions are not limited to the virtual world. Gastronomy has become the world to describe all food-related fascinations, not simply those directed to those with time and money. The evolution of this concept has been catalyzed by popular media, and will continue to grow with increased access to these media sources. Eating is an activity in which everyone in society participates, therefore, we can all connect in someway with this deepened interest in the multi-faceted study of food that is gastronomy.
And then of course, according to Wikipedia, Gastronomy is….
Though the late 1800s-early 1900s marked the boom of the popularity of Italian cuisine in the United States, with the immigration of many Italian immigrants into America, the authentic recipes these immigrants had brought over from the ‘mother land’ have significantly changed with the passing of time. Many of these recipes can no longer be considered ‘Italian’ at all, but rather ‘Italian-American’.
I remember the first time I looked at a menu on Italian soil, overcome by a feeling of ignorance and shock to how little I knew about a cuisine that was once as familiar as a hamburger and french fries. Despite language barriers, there were pasta varieties I’d never even heard of, sauces that seemed completely alien, and pizza toppings that seemed completely insane. It was at this moment I realized, “We Americans have got it all wrong”.
In America, “Italian” dishes that we cherish include:(just to name a few)
Spaghetti and Meat Balls
Some of our favorite pizza toppings: Chicken, Pineapple, Canadian bacon, broccoli, BBQ sauce
Reading through an Italian food news site (www.NewsFood.com) I came across an article about Spaghetti Bolognese, a dish that doesn’t exist in Italy.. according to the article. But why?
‘Bolognese’ is a type of meat sauce that comes from the city of Bologna, here in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. Spaghetti is never served with this type of sauce, but rather Tagliatelle a cut of pasta typical from Bologna
Anyway, though SPAGHETTI alla bolognese doesn’t exist… (and surely spaghetti and meatballs will never ever ever ever appear on a menu in Italy) Tagliatelle alla bolognese is one of the most delicious and typical dishes to come out of the city of Bologna.
Tagliatelle are thin strips of egg-based pasta, similar to fettucine
Americans, let us transform the “Italian” food that we eat in the United States.
Here is a recipe for traditional Tagliatelle alla bolognese
This is the beginning of a huge transformation in American eating, I feel it in my limbs!!!
Though many people might think that wine tasting is the most complex form of high cultured experience, the world of cheese tasting is an unexplored gem that in fact exceeds the intricacies of the wine world.
In class yesterday we were given the pleasure of meeting Mr. De Riccardis, a professional cheese taster here in Italy, who gave us a detailed lesson on how to properly taste and evaluate top quality cheeses. For this particularly tasty lesson, we evaluated 4 different Italian cheese varieties: Raschera d’Alpeggio, Taleggio, Pecorino Romano, and CastelMagno.
Before I go into detail about each cheese, there are several rules for tasting and evaluating cheese properly.
First and most importantly, cheese must be eaten alone (no bread or wine) and using ones hands… forget about cutlery folks, this is the real deal.
1.) Evaluating Shape: There are 7 different shapes of cheese. These include
Sferic (stretched curd): ie Mozzarella
Oval: ie Provola
Cylindrical: ie Parmagiano Reggiano
Parallelepiped/Square Slab: ie Taleggio
Log: ie Goat
Truncated Pyramids: ie Valencay
2.)Evaluating External Surface:
Is the cheese with or without rind?
Smooth or Rough surface?
Crust with natural molds or no molds? (90% of molds come from Penicillin family)
Dry or Moist rind?
Paraffin wax covering?
Washed rind? Washed with water/brine solution
3.)Evaluating Undercrust: If the cheese has a present rind.
is the depth/distribution of the rind uniform? If the cheese fails this test then it cannot be considered a top quality cheese (though is usually still edible)
OK! so now that we know the physical regulations for evaluating cheese, let’s get into the good stuff. How does it TASTE! What I found particularly interesting for all of our tasting samples was that the smells of the cheeses sometimes differed entirely from their taste. In other cases, the tastes became far more complex and defined when tasted.
Production Area: Piedmont, Italy city of Cuneo
Milk Used: Whole raw cow’s milk
Rennet Type: Calf
Average Aging Period: 7-8 Months
Production Period: June-September
Average Weight: 12-13 Kg
Personal Notes: This cheese is delicious, milk, and soft. Would have gone great with a Pinot Noir and a piece of bread but also was delicious on its own. Comparable in taste and texture to Asiago.
Production Area: Lombardia, Italy
Milk Used: Whole raw cow’s milk
Rennet Type: Calf
Average Aging Period: 2 Months
Production Period: Year Round
Average Weight: 2.5 kg
Personal Notes: I really enjoyed this cheese, the texture reminded me of Brie… despite a somewhat strong smell this is a relatively mild cheese. Delicious
Production Area: Tuscany, Italy
Milk Used: Whole ewe (sheep) milk
Rennet Type: Calf
Average Aging Period: 3-5 months
Production Period: March-November
Average Weight: 3.5-4 kg
Personal Notes: This cheese has a texture similar to Parmagiano Reggiano but a much heavier taste. I don’t particularly like it but it can be good in certain dishes as it adds a particular complexity that can’t be found in Grana or Parmagiano.
Production Area: Piedmont, Italy
Milk Used: Whole raw cow’s milk
Rennet Type: Calf
Average Aging Period: 7-8 months
Production Period: July-Sept
Average Weight: 2 kg
Castelmagno is considered one of the most expensive and rare cheeses in the world. Sold at 60E/kg only 600-700 wheels are produced per year.
Personal Notes:Though this cheese is considered one of the most rare and expensive in the world, I couldn’t get myself past the first bite.. The cheese was so pungent it actually burnt my tongue, and though I tasted the mushrooms, the overwhelming taste of soap kind of killed my appetite. Others in the class seemed to like it though.
OK enough cheese for one day, but to say the least I had a very tasty lesson. The first of many “Quality Food Tasting” lessons that we will have throughout the course of the year. I am going to go and buy some cheese from the market across the street to continue my ‘studies’. I am a very good student. 😉
Now that the holiday season is winding down, I have a chance to write an update on the various eating endeavors I’ve taken on in the past several weeks. For Christmas, I went to a friend’s house in Montalcino, a small but famous wine area in Tuscany.. For those of you wine afficionados, Montalcino is the home of Rosso di Montalcino as well as Brunello… Brunello has a very affluent following as a bottle in the States sells for as much as $300.
To say the least, I ate and drank very well over the Christmas holidays. But that wasn’t the end of my adventure. Within two days of returning home to Parma, my boyfriend Andrea and I embarked on a 4 hour journey into the Italian Alps, to a quaint little town called Pozza di Fassa where he has a cozy mountain apartment. Not discouraged by the winding mountain roads, and occasional hydroplanes close to the cliff’s edge, I was excited to see this new region of Italy, Trentino, a place I had never been in the country I call home.
Just a quick aside, I was shocked by how German this area of northern Italy truly is. Trentino-Alto Adige is quite close to Austria, making the culture there very different from the rest of Italy. In fact, the first language there is Ladino, a dialect that combines German, Austrian, and some Italian. Me being me, I was particularly interested in the cuisine of this region, because while traditional pasta and pizza plates can be found in restaurants, so too can German specialties such as kraut and wurstel!
Infatuated by this geographical change in menu, Andrea and I decided to go traditional for New Years and sign ourselves up for something called a “Cenone” which translates to “Big Dinner” at a hotel near his apartment. Now, keep in mind that a “big dinner” on Italian terms isn’t your traditional 3 course meal… rather, a 4 hour 13 course eating extravaganza. Could my underfed American tummy handle the pressure??? For a belly busting 90 Euro a person, I was well aware of the magnitude of the feast that was before me.
Starting with an Aperitivo (remember what that is?) at 7:30pm, we were welcomed with sparkling Prosecco, various bitter cocktails, and some light snacks. I made sure not to eat too much of the early stuff because I was well aware of the feast that awaited.
Then we went to our table, which was nicely marked with our names. Then the real deal began. Here is the menu:
For those of you that can’t see the menu clearly, there were 5 starters, 2 first plates, 4 second plates, a palate cleanser, and 2 desserts.. accompanied of course by bottomless wine and champagne. This was the hedonists dream.
Aside from the fact that our dinner companions were the strangest mix of Austrians, Germans, Italians, and various other Nordic cultures, we definitely had ourselves a ball of a time. The experience could be described as a strange mix between a John Hughes film from the eary 80s and an awkward European sitcom.
Nonetheless. I thoroughly enjoyed my holidays. A little romance, a lot of food, and of course, always gourmet.
Here are some more photos from the trip:
Happy 2010 everyone! I look forward to a very eventful and successful year, and I wish the same to all of my loyal readers. The best is yet to come 😉
P.S. Good luck to everyone who is attempting the beginning of the year diet. I’m with you on that one… until lunch that is…