Monday, February 4, 2008

Cheese Worship

This is a Parmesan cheese holder, designed by sensuous Italian powerhouse Alessi. It costs $78, and it's made of pale gold and crystal, bestowing upon the jewel of Parma the sort of adulation it demands.

I think it's both an interesting object and a fascinating symbol. What would provoke the design of such a highbrow, deity-protecting item? Is Reggiano that special? Does the print on the rind intentionally resemble a luxury logo? Why does set you back $15 dollars a pound? These are signs of the cheese's cult of personality, its branded identity, its generated myth.

Reggiano is special--it's bespoke, boutique, in high demand. After the semi-hard cheese is inscribed with the signature stamp, aged 12 months, it is inspected by the Consorzio Parmigiano Reggiano (the sort of fromagie-equivalent of an MC) then exported and peddled. But Parmesan, as much as it might like to, does not hold the patent on the grana (or grainy) nutty cheese flavor.

All of the authenticity "hype" would lead you to believe there is no other cheese in this market, that cheap imitators of Parmigiano are akin to off-brand Coke.

Not so! Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you: grana padano.

Grana padano's tradition reaches back even further than Reggiano--'twas made by Cistercian monks in 1135 AD around the marshes of the Po river. Contrary to American belief, it is actually the most-produced cheese in Italy, with factories in Emilia-Romagna, Lombardy, Piedmont, Trentino, and Veneto (as opposed to just the tiny region of Parma ). Additionally, it's more affordable than it's plus chic cousin, and has almost the exact same crystallized texture and salty flavor. Of course, it is still protected by the Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) which inspects and regulates Italian identity-related food items like, ie Basalmic vineagar, olive oil, and Chianti, so it's still special, but not the high-ticket item that is Reggiano.

Henry Hoffman watches Caseificio Europa make Grana Padano

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