Yesterday The Lady prepared an “adaptation” of a Frico recipe she came across in Culinaria Italy, the second book in the series that she recently discovered and loves. She has also purchased Culinaria Spain and will be reviewing it in the near future.
Culinaria Italy is especially close to her heart because she spent a week in Italy last fall, attending and working at the Bra Cheese Festival and touring the Piedmont and Emilia Romagna regions.
The Lady would be the first to admit that the recipes are probably her favorite parts of the books; but as mentioned when we reviewed Culinaria France, sitting down with these books is a virtual culinary tour of each country.
Similar to Culinaria France, CI is divided into regions exploring the foods, drinks and food cultures of each. The Lady and I naturally gravitated to the sections discussing the cheeses.
Here are some of what we discovered on our journey through Culinaria Italy:
Friuli: This Alpine region is off the beaten path on the border of the former Yugoslavia. To those living there or those who have discovered Friuli, it is loved for its cuisine and wine. Friuli is one of the few regions that produces a DOC ham: Prosciutto di San Danielle, made from the leg meat of the Valpadana pig which can weigh up to 440 pounds. This translates into a lot of ham. Montasio cheese is produced here and also a superior bacon. The region also boasts some amazing wines.
The world’s largest Frico, a traditional fried cheese dish, was made in Udine, Italy. It weighed more than 600 pounds and was made using Montasio, a hard, cow’s milk cheese shaped like Fontina Val d’Aosta and similar to Asiago texture-wise. Montasio was originally made by monks using sheep milk. In 1986 the cheese was awarded DPO protection. The Lady and I have never tasted this cheese. It is available at amazon through my Cheese Shop above. Just click on the Cheese Shop tab and either search or go to the Cheeses of Italy tab on the right side of the page… I assume The Lady can take a hint ans follow the directions to this cheese…
In the Lombardia region, you find Taleggio, Grana Padano and Gorgonzola produced. These are all world class cheeses and favorites around The Manse. Grana Padano is the #1 selling Parmesan in Italy and the #1 selling DOP-protected cheese in the world.
Did you know that before the EU was formed, DOC was the symbol used in Italy to protect cheeses, meats, wines and other specialty products. Many products still use the DOC symbol which is valid and any item previously DOC-protected automatically became DOP-protected as well.
Valle d’Aosta produces one of the great Alpine-style cheeses, Fontina Val d’Aosta. Alpine cheeses are made from the summer milk of cows grazing their way up the mountains enjoying the flora of the hillsides. Then they come back down in the early fall. This movement is known as transhumance and is celebrated both at the beginning and the end with the entire town dressing in traditional clothing and the animals being adorned with huge flower leis and bells.
Castelmagno is a DOC cheese made exclusively in three communities in the province of Cuneo in the Piedmont region. This semi-soft cheese is hung in a cloth to allow more whey to drain before being in wooden vats and then pressed into molds. Normally, it is made from cow milk but sometimes a small amount of skimmed goat or sheep milk can be added. The cheese is aged two to five months in caves. The claim is made that today’s Castelmagno tastes almost identical to the cheese made in the 13th century… however, you gotta ask, how would anyone know for sure???
Gorgonzola is also made in the Piedmont region. At Bra aka “Cheese”, The Lady tasted a sweet local Gorgonzola so creamy it had to be eaten with a spoon.
In the wine world, Piedmont is known as the Kingdom of Nebbiolo wines; Barolo and Barbaresco. The Sunday in Italy, The Lady toured Barolo and La Morra enjoying the great reds of the region. One of her tour mates, Jeff, knew the wines of the region, and treated the group to some of the best.
Emilia-Romagna is the region that produces Parmigiano-Reggiano, arguably the King of Cheeses, Prosciutto de Parma and Modena Balsamic Vinegar. Bologna is famous for its lasagna and the entire region makes exquisite pastas.
The last day in Italy, The Lady toured both the Zanetti Parm/Reggiano factory and Beretta Brothers Cured Meats where Prosciutto de Parma is cured. Lunch that day was a feat of pastas, meats and wines. One of the best of the entire trip.
Barilla, the biggest manufacturer of pasta in the world and also the market leader in Italy is located in Parma.
You live forever on the culinary creations of Emilia-Romagna and die a happy humankind.
The cheeses of Tuscany are mostly pecorinos made in Chianti. You can buy pecorinos as young as two weeks and the mature ones, aged more than six months, are used for grating instead of Parmesans. Because of the abundance of herbs in the region, the ewes are allowed to graze in the endless pastures undisturbed. There are so many pecorinos in Tuscany, that few cow milk cheeses are produced.
The region of Marche is also known for its pecorinos, not only for eating but for sports. Rolling well-matured pecorinos along the streets, by teams, is won by the team that rolls the wheel the furthest.
Mozzarella from Campania is some of the country’s best with Buffalo Mozzarella being the best of the best. Mozzarella in a Carriage is a fried mozzarella sandwich made using stale bread and buffalo mozzarella dipped in a mixture of eggs and milk and fried in olive oil until golden brown. Caprese salad is another specialty of the region.
The island of Sardegna has a sheep population larger than the humankinds who live on the island. As a result, pecorinos abound from pecorino romano to pepato to pecorino sardo.
The island is also where Casumarzu was created by taking a well-aged Pecorino Sardo and boring a small channel into the top of the rind and introducing small white maggots into the cheese. To help acclimate the maggots, a few drops of milk are added the first few days until the maggots begin to eat the cheese. Once they have consumed most of the paste, the Casumarzu aficionado cracks the rind open and spreads the mixture of cheese and maggots onto a slice of bread.
Every region boasts its own pasta dishes, its own cheeses, olive oils, vinegars and game dishes; each of superior quality… except that Casumarzu… now that’s just plain disgusting and wrong …
But if you want to be taken away to Italy and dream of each meal being better than the last, then Culinaria Italy is the book for you.
I give Culinaria Italy 4 Paws out of 4 Paws (cause that’s all I’ve got).