For The Love Of Cheese, Diners Unite In Italy | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio
Filed Under:

For The Love Of Cheese, Diners Unite In Italy

Play associated audio

In Italy tonight, everyone's having the same thing for dinner, and there's no doubt that it's going to smell terrific.

Forbes magazine food and travel writer Larry Olmsted tells NPR's Jacki Lyden that it's Parmigiano-Reggiano night in Italy. It's all about the cheese — and not that stuff you buy in the green plastic canister — but the real stuff, made in the country's world-famous Emilia-Romagna region, in the city of Parma.

Using social media and other methods to spread the word, Parmigiano-Reggiano promoters are "trying to get people all throughout Italy to eat the same meal at the same time, sort of a virtual, national sit-down dinner in people's own homes, and to a lesser extent, restaurants," says Olmsted. They're calling it the biggest Italian dinner in history.

Organizers say the dinner is designed to promote the revitalization of the Parma region. Cheese producers there are still struggling because earlier this year, a series of earthquakes toppled shelves containing millions of dollars worth of the cheese, aged for two years in giant, five-story buildings.

Looking at the warehouses before the quake, you'd see "nothing but cheese as far as the eye can see." Olmsted tells Lyden. "And the wheels are huge, like tires. They weigh 80-something pounds. Several hundred thousand of wheels of cheese fell off the shelves during the earthquake. So, long story short — a lot of cheese hit the floor."

But it's not just cheese the region is famous for.

"All the good stuff comes from Parma," Olmsted says. Prosciutto di Parma. Two of Europe's largest food producers, agri-giant Parmalat and Barilla, are there. And Modena, next to Parma, is the epicenter of the gourmet vinegar trade, where Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena is made.

"If there is an Italian product you would go to a gourmet store to buy, there is a high likelihood it comes from Emilia-Romagna," Olmsted writes. "But the key is the cheese — the king of cheese."

Now there's a new push to make sure it's hitting the saucepan — thanks to world-famous Italian chef Massimo Bottura of the highly rated restaurant Osteria Francescana in Modena.

Bottura developed the recipe Italians will be serving tonight, using that world-famous cheese. It's called cacio e pepe, pasta with cheese and pepper — but there's a twist.

Olmsted says Bottura "switched out the pasta for a risotto because northern Italy is rice-based rather than pasta-based. And then he switched the cheese, which would normally be a local Roman cheese. He substituted the Parmiganio-Regginao to sort of tie the whole country together in this one fairly simple dish."

"To me, it's the iconic cheese of the Italian cuisine," Bottura himself told NPR. "I believe in this. I believe in tradition. I believe in quality of the food you eat."

According to Olmsted, hundreds of thousands of Italians are expected to take part in tonight's dinner.

If you'd like a seat at the table, Chef Bottura shared with us a copy of his risotto recipe, below.


Risotto Cacio e Pepe

3 1/4 pounds Parmigiano-Reggiano, aged for 30 months

4 quarts still mineral water

17.5 ounces Vialone Nano or other arborio rice

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon white peppercorns

1 teaspoon Szechuan or black peppercorns

1 teaspoon long Jamaican peppercorns

1 teaspoon Sarawak peppercorns

Parmigiano-Reggiano water, made 24 hours ahead

To make the Parmigiano-Reggiano water: Grate the cheese and mix with the room-temperature mineral water in a large pan.

On the stovetop, slowly heat the water until the Parmigiano-Reggiano starts to form threads at the bottom. A thermometer will read between 176 and 194 degrees Fahrenheit. Remove the pan from the heat and let it to cool to room temperature. Cover with plastic wrap and leave overnight in the fridge.

The next day, take the solid part that has formed on the top and place it in a bowl. This will be used to cream the risotto. Strain remaining solid part to collect the Parmigiano-Reggiano water. Cut the solid part into thin slices and cook in the microwave for a couple of seconds. This is tasty with crackers!

To make the risotto: Over low heat, simmer Parmigiano-Reggiano water in a pot. Put the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pan. Add the rice and toast until it starts to warm up.

Wet the rice with the Parmigiano-Reggiano water. Stir and continue cooking, adding liquid as you would with any risotto. About three-quarters of the way through cooking, add a little bit of the solids that separated from the Parmigiano-Reggiano water.

When the rice is ready, in 30-35 minutes, remove the pan from the heat and briskly mix in the remainder of cheese to give the risotto a creamy texture.

Crack the pepper individually and grind the Jamaican pepper. Spread the risotto out on a plate and sprinkle generously with the various types of pepper. Serves 4.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

How One Poet's 'Genius Grant' Became A Gift To Future Generations

Amy Clampitt was named a MacArthur genius in 1992. Today, the home she bought with her award money is used to house rising poets in tuition-free residencies.
NPR

Edible Packaging? Retailers Not Quite Ready To Ditch The Wrapper

To reduce waste, some enterprising companies are trying to roll out products that make the package part of the snack — edible packaging. But selling it to the retail market is trickier than it seems.
WAMU 88.5

Senator's Legislation Would Strip NFL Of Nonprofit Status

The Redskins' refusal to change its name has prompted the legislation from U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA).
NPR

When The Power's Out, Solar Panels May Not Keep The Lights On

With the price of solar panels falling, more municipalities and homeowners are installing them. But having solar panels doesn't mean you won't lose power in a blackout — at least not yet.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.