Sunday, October 19, 2014

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

This is it: the final cheese plate. It has taken almost two months, but work is picking up at the office, and it feels great to be busy. I would have finished this earlier, but I’m also grieving the loss of my nine-year-old cat Miette. 

It feels strange to lose someone so dear to you while you’re abroad. On one hand, not being in the same place they were in removes the aspect of being constantly reminded that their presence is no longer there. On the other hand, the idea of not seeing her when I visit for the holidays or when I Skype my parents… it’s a blow to the heart, for sure.

A quick eulogy.
Miette had a tender tummy (like me). She struggled to hold food down, and we ended up putting her on a gluten free diet. Our cats have always been given supplements, special kitty litter, and different meal types (wet and dry) from companies that value quality for our four-legged family members as much as we do.

Finding out that Miette had passed while I was abroad brought about similar grieving patterns you would expect: the five stages of grief and loss. Part of me wishes it were a sick joke. Part of me thinks that it was my fault because I wasn’t there for her (or for my other cat, Lilli, who grieved heavily and searched for her for weeks). Part of me is grateful she was loved and taken care of until the end, but also angry with myself and in general. And a huge part of me struggles to fall asleep until after one a.m., even a month later, because we all know where thoughts can go in the darkness of night when you’re grieving.

She was a wonderful and slightly insane cat. She was picky. She insisted on waking people up at four in the morning to turn on the sink for her to drink water. She chaperoned CK’s and my walks around the neighborhood. She was fiercely loyal and she loved with all of her being. And goodness, that sandpaper tongue… She was the perfect model, who posed for photos and always looked at the lens.

She loved the weirdest foods too. She loved coconut milk and tried to eat avocado (they aren’t good for kitties, so stop them immediately when they do). She and Lilli would sneak onto the counters and eat meat or animal fats had been left out.

She was weird. She was obnoxious. She was sweet. She was family. She was part of this awesome dynamic kitty duo that slept with me under the covers. She made having a tender tummy something to bond over and not feel wrong for. She was there for me through heartbreak, through high school, college, and graduate school. She was there when Meals with Morri was created. It feels so bizarre that a lot of things are continuing on and she won’t be there to see it.
The sadness is lessening each day, but I will always miss her and grateful to have had such an amazing friend in my life.
During the last week of August, CK and I completed the South Italy cheese plate. Instead of trying to find food and wine pairings, like I had with the previous ones, I decided to make homemade buckwheat crackers and cracked open a cider and beer. The regions were Abruzzo, Apulia, Basilicata, Calabria, Compania, and Molise. One cheese was used to represent Calabria and Compania, since the cheese is found in both.

I apologize in advance for the descriptions to not be particularly descriptive. It’s been a while, and I’ve forgotten individual tastes and flavors. However, like the patterns of the previous regions, this particular region emphasized on mild flavors and semi-hard cheeses, usually pear shaped (which I will get into in a moment), showing that mild doesn’t have to mean tasteless. Almost all are considered pasta filata cheeses with a spicy aftertaste depending on the cheese’s maturation.

From Abruzzo, we tried Pecorino di Farindola Stagionato. It is a slightly piquant, grassy flavored cheese, with a small peppery aftertaste that is just delightful. 

We next tried Pallone di Gravina, a cheese found in both Apulia and Basilicata. A stretched-curd cheese, it’s hung to mature, resulting in the cheese being either pear-shaped or round.

From Basilicata, although this cheese is found throughout the South, we tasted Caciocavello Silano, a D.O.P. cheese. The spiciness comes from the aging process in the cellars along with Sila’s climate. It is rich cream color throughout, but with sporadic holes.

Caciotto represented Calabria and Compania, although I am curious whether or not there is a longer name to it. I recall this one being the most mild of the cheeses, kind if like a young provolone.

Finally, it took me quite a while to find a cheese from Molise, but it was a hidden gem in the form of Caciocavello di Agnone. Another pear-shaped cheese, its production in Molise is recognized and included in the list of traditional Italian food products (PAT). Its origins are also considered to be quite old, and perhaps the cheese with the oldest history we had tried.

This concludes my five-part Italian Cheese Plate Project! Despite trying over twenty different cheeses, this doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the many cheeses Italy has brought to the world. There is still a cheese from Sardegna that my Sardinian friend at the office wants me to try, and if any of you can recommend other cheeses from the regions, please let me know! 

I also have another project I want to look into: French butter. I finished a book on Julia Child's exploits in France (also in Germany and Norway) where she raved over how each region had its own butter, consisting of different flavors, textures, and uses.

Luckily, I don’t think CK will mind.

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