We’re Worried About Your Cheese By
You may have heard the news about the recent earthquakes in Italy. In 2009 they had a rumbler that almost completely destroyed the city of L’Aquila, killing 300 and leaving thousands homeless. On May 20th they had a trembler that killed 7 and destroyed a number of historic buildings. This one was near Modena. After a series of pretty serious aftershocks they had a 5.8 the other day that killed 17 and destroyed another round of already weakened buildings. Our hearts go out to those people. We imagine that they’re a little shell-shocked at this point, waiting for the next one.
Another real tragedy about what happened in Italy is what it did to their industry. The towns around Modena are famous for their culinary contribution. They’re artisanal and have been doing many of the same things for the better part of two thousand years. They make cheese, and lots of it.
The area is famous for making parmesan, padano, and romano cheeses. There are almost a dozen big producers making the cheeses there, and almost a half a million cheese wheels hit the deck when their cellars were rocked. We don’t know that cheese has a 5-second rule, but when you figure that it takes about two or three years to properly age one of those bad boys it would seem that these earthquakes have put a huge kink in the region’s way of life.
Nobody can say for sure who made the first cheese, but it was probably an accident. We’re glad it worked out the way that it did, because we love some good cheese, but it definitely wasn’t a purposeful endeavor. In the days before megamarts and cheese in a can, people were nomads. We’re talking before the Roman Empire and the Pyramids. You had some animal skins for warmth and shelter, some fire-making tools, and a herd of goats. When the goats got hungry and wandered off, you followed them.
Transporting food was a challenge for these folks. This was, of course, the era before vacuum sealers and Styrofoam coolers. These nomads would wrap food in the same animal skins that they used for sleeping and stuff. They would often use an animal stomach or other organ to contain the messy stuff, and it was using this method to try and save some milk that probably led to our first cheese. Raw milk, add some bacteria, a pinch of dirt, chase a goat for three days; you have some cheese.
The earliest cheeses were probably really crumbly and salty like a feta, but since those early Stonehenge-era days we’ve come up with types and flavors that run across the cheeseboard. We have soft, runny cheeses and hard, crumbly cheeses. There are mild cheeses and sharp cheeses. They range from sweet to salty to tart to savory to smoky. If an animal produces milk, then someone has figured out how to make cheese from it. We have cow’s milk cheese, goat cheese, buffalo cheese, and sheep cheese. There’s even a cheese made from Balkan donkeys. There’s round cheese, square cheese, flat cheese and fluffy cheese. Sorry if we sound kind of like the Bubba Gump of cheese, but we’re fans.
Now, we like swiss cheese, but what we refer to as swiss is actually an American construct. Most of the swiss cheese that we use comes from Wisconsin. One of our favorites is the Cabot Vermont Cheddar. We use that a lot around here. The folks in Vermont use milk from a bunch of family farms and have been making these smooth cheeses for about a hundred years. Not the 2,000-year tradition of Modina but a nice start. We also like the tangy bleu that we use in the Q Bleu Sandwich. Gives it a really nice kick.
Just for reference, we don’t like cheese that comes wrapped in plastic in individual slices. If you look at the label it says, “Processed Cheese Food.” That’s not cheese, much like chicken nuggets bear but a passing resemblance to actual chickens. We also don’t go for cheeses that squirt out of a can. Not cheese. Aerosol is for graffiti artists, not foodies. Just saying.
So the next time you give your pasta a little sprinkle, take a moment to thank the craftsmen in Italy who graced you with some parmesan. We hope that they are able to stay safe and get their lives back on track. Goodness knows, we need their cheese.