Yesterday I paid a visit to Rich Rogers, owner of Scardello Artisan Cheese, to talk Parm. The shop sells the cheese from a whole wheel they purchase every other month or so. When a new wheel arrives, Rogers gets excited. His wife Karen gets excited. Parmigiano Reggiano is after all, the king of cheeses.
Rogers pointed to the stamps that marred the oily rind and explained each one: the date the wheel was approved and certified as Parmigiano Reggiano; the lot from which it was produced; the green symbol that denotes the Bonati family as the farm of origin. Giorgio Bonati makes the wheels from a single herd of cows.
Rogers used one knife with a hook on the end to cut a deep score completely around the wheel. He drove three traditional blades (coltello per Parmigiano if you're ever in Italy) deep into the rind. It's a careful, deliberate process: the knives act like wedges, and over the course of 15 minutes the wheel gently cleaves in two, and the most amazing aroma pours out into the room ...
Rich, sweet, fresh, pineapple, riding on the waves of the most intense Parmigiano odors that have ever graced my olfactory perception. It was intoxicating.
Parmigiano Reggiano is a sturdy cheese that stores well, but Rogers will admit that like wine, a wheel of cheese is not going to get any better after you open it. He stores the wheel carefully, and often shaves the dry, oxidized layer that forms on the outside to expose fresh a fresh surface for his customers.
But watching that wheel "pop," as Rogers puts it, is a sight every food lover should witness. It also provides an ample learning opportunity for those wishing to be schooled in the visual characteristics of fresh Parmigiano Reggiano.
Check out the layer of cheese just inside the outer rind. It's dark and rich and almost translucent. As the cheese ages that rind will oxidize and dry out. A white patina will appear along the edge of the rind. It will still be good cheese. But it won't be as good as the cheese you're looking at now.
So do this soon. Get your ass to Scardello and pick up a pound of delicious fresh parm. Run home as fast as you can and put a large pot of salty water on the stove to boil. Toss in a half pound or so of your favorite pasta (I like linguini) and give it a stir. Into a large skillet put a 1/4 cup of good olive oil (or more, it's your dinner) and bring it to temperature over low heat. Add coarse and freshly ground black pepper. Mind your flame. Not too hot. You want to smell fruity olive oil and brash black pepper but you don't want to cook either of them.
When the pasta is almost finished drain it and quickly add it to the skillet, reserving a cup or so of the cooking water. Turn up the heat. Grate as much Parmigiano Reggiano as you like over the simmering dish. Watch as the wisps of cheese melt and disappear. Add a little water if the dish looks dry.
As the water cooks off, and the cheese incorporates, you'll be left with the most amazing sauce that clings to and completely integrates with the pasta.
Try not to weep. This is the best sort of eating.
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