A Night in with Parmigiano-Reggiano

Friday, July 14, 2017

The talented Julie from Just the Alps Between Us recounts a night of cheesy indulgence laid on by the Consortium for Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Italy. The land of pizza, pasta and gelato. Of long lunches, lazy days and grandmothers who refuse to believe you are full. Because here, food is more than just a way of fulfilling hunger… it’s a way of life. It's at the heart of all social interactions, bringing families and friends together and is the first thing a parent will ask. 

"Have you eaten? Are you hungry?" Is what my dad is always asking me over the phone - he has lived here in the UK for 20 years but is Italian through and through.

And all it took was 7 months living there on my year abroad for me to become totally and utterly converted into a fellow foodie obsessive - in the most positive way possible. I get so excited about food that I will plan holidays around what local dishes I want to try and spend hours upon hours researching places to eat. So you can imagine my excitement when the opportunity came to spend a WHOLE evening talking about food and Italian food at that!

Organised by the Consortium for Parmigiano-Reggiano which makes sure only the Parmesan produced in the Emilia Romagna region gets the special title, it was to be an indulgent evening of talking and trying all things cheese. There were no less than five courses to try made with the very ingredient, hosted by the lovely Eleonora Galasso – Italian food writer, blogger and teacher from Rome.

The very embodiment of everything we love about Italy and Italians: she was warm, friendly and effortlessly stylish in a beautiful, flowery 1950s cocktail dress. But really, it was her passion for food that made her the perfect hostess as she recounted Italian tales to explain exactly how Parmigiano is so special and why it is such a key ingredient in Italian dishes.

Made in the region of Emilia-Romagna (one of the richest, heartiest regions for food) but enjoyed throughout the entire country, she explained how the flavour, a perfect balance of sweet and savoury, makes it a staple ingredient to be added to any dish but equally also satisfying enough to be enjoyed on its own. 

So much so that (apparently) Italian women that were dieting and missing the comfort of hearty Italian meals, would eat a small piece whenever they felt their resolve waning and immediately feel better. Whether that's true or not, I can certainly admit to eating it straight from the fridge in generous hunks!

And testament to the attention to detail Italians give to their food – did you know that Parmesan should be cut with a special knife that preserves the crystallised structure inside? Having made us all sufficiently hungry by talking about all the deliciousness Italian cuisine has to offer and in spectacular detail about Parmesan - it was time for the first of the 5 Formaggio - based dishes. 

First we were treated to Parmigiano-Reggiano courgette fritters. Fried things usually taste good on their own, but using Parmigiano really turned it up the extra notch and in such a simple way. Next came savoury profiteroles with chicory cream and of course, Parmesan! I forgot to save my appetite for the rest of the menu and had quite a few of these as they were so yummy.

Then there were aubergine rolls with Parmesan, ricotta and hazelnuts which were interesting and demonstrated a slightly fancier way of using parmesan in a starter.  

And despite having had 3 dishes containing cheese, the flavour was so subtle and perfectly matched with the other ingredients that there was no danger of being overwhelmed. 

The main dish and my favourite of all, was a delicious, creamy spaghetti number that Eleonora finished in front of our eager, hungry eyes, expertly combining simple ingredients as Italians do so well, to create a filling and indulgent dish that blew our minds.

Like the olives with their tart flavour, perfectly balanced by the saltiness of the guanciale and smoothed by the creaminess of the sauce and of course, topped with a generous helping of grated Parmesan.

Accompanied by delicious red wine (something else that Italians do so amazingly well) it was by far the highlight of the menu, which everyone agreed. We got to tell the host just what an amazing dish she had made as she came around to every guest individually to chat about it and food in general which was really lovely!

And then sadly, we neared the end of our Parmigiano journey, with just one more dish left to try: Cantucci biscuits. Normally served with coffee; I was really looking forward to these. However, I forgot that this was a cheese only kind of night and after taking a bite realised they were actually savoury. And while they were very yummy it was just one cheese dish too far for me. I have a bit of a sweet tooth too and would always opt for the chocolate cake over the cheeseboard. 

But that didn't matter because I had a lovely evening learning more about the cheese that I had always loved and getting to experience it in new ways. It is much more versatile than I expected and I think I'm going to be a bit more inventive with it rather than just sprinkling it over pasta dishes and helping myself to chunks from the fridge (although I still will do that!).

Luckily we were given a small recipe book so I can do exactly that. I'm particularly intrigued by the pear and parmesan combo. But however you use your Parmesan, it will be delicious and that's a fact! Thank you Parmigiano-Reggiano for letting me indulge in my Italian foodie dreams!

About the Author
Julie Goffreod is a half Italian student, lover of languages and travel and a blogger who is slightly obsessed with macaroons. Check out her blog, Just theAlps Between Us!

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