The real wheel. Parmesan and cocktails: an intriguing mix
by Jo Lamiri - Saturday March 23, 2019 9:03 am
The words ‘Parmesan’ and ‘cocktails’ don’t often crop up in the same phrase so the intriguing invitation to TT Liquor (you can tell by the name that it’s in Shoreditch) was one that couldn’t be missed.
Parmesan dates from the 13th century. Since then, as Andrea Robuschi from the Consorzio del Formaggio Parmigiano Reggiano explained, the real deal (or should that be the real wheel) is made in a strictly defined area in northern Italy, around Parma. Hence its protected status.
This means that it can only be made to specific methods: for example, cows can only be fed on grass (without silage or animal-origin feed) from the regions of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Bologna and Mantua.
Skilled production methods are handed down through the generations. The cheese is only ever made in the same way from milk, salt and rennet – no additives, preservatives and naturally lactose-free. It takes a massive 14 litres of milk to make just one kilo, and 550 litres to make the typical wheel.
Andrea explained that a large part of the work of the Consorzio, created in 1934, is in tracking down counterfeit ‘Parmesan’ worldwide. Once you get outside the EU, a great deal of ‘Parmigiano Reggiano’ isn’t actually Parmesan.
Apparently, when shopping in the supermarket we should look for the Parmesan Reggiano stamp on the rind or the certification wheel or wedge stamps on the packaging.
It was fascinating to try the three cheeses. A long table was laid upstairs, with a huge hunk of Parmesan as a centrepiece and a fake plastic wheel of the cheese that’s obviously rolled out for press events worldwide…
We kicked off with a tasting of 18, 24 and 36 month-old Parmesan. Andrea suggested feeling the cheese for elasticity and solidity, then breaking it and smelling it, then tasting.
Interestingly, to me the 18-month had more smell than the more mature cheeses, with lactic notes prevailing, yoghurt, fresh milk, steamed vegetables. Sweet and salty at the same time, it was a revelation of freshness, popular in salads and with cold cuts.
The more intensely coloured 24-month cheese can be eaten in chunks or grated as it still has enough elasticity. The smell was sweeter, more buttery and it almost dissolved on the tongue with delicious graininess.
Small white crystals start to appear in the cheese – amino acid tyrosine, a product of good bacteria – at this stage.
Finally, 36-month-old Parmesan, with rich aroma of nutmeg, pepper and spices and more intense, less crumbly texture. The flavour was incomparable, definitely one for the cheeseboard.
Dinner featured Parmigiano in a big way – not least in the cocktails. Our starter of parmesan polenta chip poutine with crispy chicken skin and gravy definitely owed more to Campania than to Canada. It was paired with a Martini we’d made ourselves, under mixologist instructions.
The next course was Parmesan and cauliflower veloute with parmesan and chilli crisps. This excellent velvety soup rich with the cheese flavour paired with Ancho Margarita. Instead of the usual salt rim on the glass, Parmesan had been mixed in too, giving a deliciously new dimension.
Finally we enjoyed carpaccio of Scottish venison, shaved Parmesan, Parmesan dressing and hazelnuts.
This was a great illustration of how Parmesan can be incorporated into sauces, dressings and salsas, or used au natural for different texture and flavour effects. Red Snapper – a type of Bloody Mary sprinkled with Parmesan garnish accompanied it.
This may not sound as bizarre as its seems, given that a cheese and tomato sandwich is such a popular combination. The creaminess of the cheese offset the sharpness of the tomato beautifully.
While it’s easy to take Parmesan for granted as something to be sprinkled on to your pasta, this event showed that this king of cheeses is much more versatile than that. The wheel deal, in fact.
For more information, visit www.parmigianoreggiano.com