Sunday, November 20, 2011

Cheese with [out] borders: Part 3

I’ve been returning all week to the subject of parmesan and I realise I’ve hardly begun to grate below the surface. Why I do so is this. Just as it’s hard to imagine a Chinese kitchen without a wok, so too the Italian store cupboard would seem bare without a piece of grana. It’s fundamental. To the Italian cook, a piece of grana is not simply a piece of cheese. Nor is it simply just another ingredient. It’s a kitchen utensil, indispensable in lending shape and character to everything from a simple bowl of pasta to a stuffing for a roast.

The famous gastronome, Massimo Alberini, put it much better than I ever could. He said: “[Grana] is without doubt, the most typical Italian cheese, not only for its intrinsic value but, more important, for the contribution which it makes to the flavour and nutritive value of many dishes, from minestrone to pasta, from polenta to certain vegetables. It enriches without suffocating, gives vigour without overwhelming, and, in particular, confers an Italian character to [each such dish]”. Whilst pasta has given substance to the cuisine of a nation, you could say, grana has stamped that cuisine with its own distinct identity.

Fundamental is not a word that should ever be used lightly. Yet one out of every ten items that pass through a supermarket checkout in Italy is grana. Whether it’s Parmigiano Reggiano, Grana Piacentino or some other grana is beside the point. It’s simply that fundamental. As I’m standing on the bridge, the border between two great cheese producing zones, I understand how ancient provincial rivalries can endure through cheese. In Italy, grana is more than just a condiment that you grate over a steaming bowl of spaghetti. It’s a cornerstone of the Italian kitchen. It’s a 1,000 year’s of tradition. It’s part of the culinary character and DNA of a nation. It’s fundamental.

1 comment:

  1. I love this post Mario, particularly the quote. Grana is something that we use quite a lot of.