Wednesday, September 3, 2014

When in Rome, make a Cheese Plate (Part III of V)

After three cheese plates, CK and I started to see patterns. With the first cheese plate, we saw an array of fresh and soft cheeses. With the second, we saw cross-cultural appreciation of creaminess and hints of blue marble. Now, with the third, we saw hardness, aging, and Italy’s best-kept secret food combination.

Northeast Italy is made up of four regions: Emilia-Romagna; Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Trentino-Alto Adige; and Veneto.

This was an interesting cheese plate to create. It was simple, rustic, highly cheese-focused in comparison to the others. It was also the easiest to make (it took longer to pick out a wine than it did finding the cheeses). I was quite proud of the fact that, one, I was able to find all four region’s cheeses and, two, they all have PDO/DOP status. You may also notice that there were only three pairings on the plate along with the cheeses. This is because every cheese could be and was paired with vinegar or honey. The Grana Padano was also eaten with olives, just to be different.

This was also the first cheese plate that the wine went beautifully with all four cheeses and the pairings. The wine was a 2011 Allegrini Palazzo della Torre, from the Veneto region. It is a lovely wine, with a balance in sweetness and fullness that isn’t overpowering and absolutely luscious in between bites of cheese dipped in honey or balsamic vinegar.

From Emilia-Romagna came the fantastic and infamous Parmigiano-Reggiano. It’s a popular cheese here (as in, it completely fills an entire shelf unit in Eataly’s cheese department), and has similar notes to Parmesan or Grana Padano (strong flavors, a great pasta/topping cheese). A sharp cheese with a sweet end-note, it brings a smoky, almost spicy finish to any dish you can think of. CK and I thought the combination of this cheese with the honey was a match made in heaven. This was the secret I was telling you about. Pairing honey with this cheese was something of a cheese nirvana moment for me, sort of like the apple and peanut butter in the dairy world. And we all know how much I love that combination.

Montasio represented Friuli-Venezia Giulia. It’s a very mild cheese with a tantalizingly rounded aroma that reminded us of a mild swiss. This cheese is very similar to Trentino’s Asiago, only less pungent just slightly harder. It went beautifully with both pairings. Alas, I believe I was turned around in taking the photos, as I photographed the Montasio twice… Anyway, Asiago is quite the surprise. It has a similar aroma to Gruyere, only more mild in pungency and spicier.

Finally, Veneto’s Grana Padano, another popular cheese. Like Parmigiano-Reggiano, it had its own shelving unit stock-full of huge wedges. It isn’t a strong as the other cheese, but it does have a sharp quality that is more savory than it was sweet. When paired with honey, the cheese seemed to take on the sweetness as its own flavor, becoming a sort of honey fudge to me. It was delicious and rather rich, but we both felt that the vinegar paired significantly better with it.

I noticed that there was a spectrum to the pairings’ compatibility. We tried the cheeses with both the vinegar and the honey separately, sipping on the wine in between. Two of the cheeses excelled with both pairings equally (Montasio and Asiago), while the other two remained loyal team-vinegar (Grana Padano) or team-honey (Parmigiano-Reggiano) through and through.

So although it wasn’t necessarily the prettiest cheese plate, it was a satisfying one nonetheless.

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