I’ll never forget the first time I saw a giant wheel of Parmigiano-Reggiano cracked open in Rome. The sound, the smell, the taste. And every time I eat the cheese now, I’m transported to that exact moment. Food has the extraordinary ability to whisk me back to my fondest travel memories. It’s a beautiful feeling. That’s why – whenever I can – I try to use authentic ingredients when I return home. Sometimes it’s a challenge, but when you have awesome grocery stores like Loblaws dedicated to sourcing authentic ingredients and bringing them to store shelves it makes life a whole lot easier…
I’m a bit of a cheese snob so when I walk into the Loblaws stores downtown and see the enormous cheese fridges I immediately grin from ear-to-ear. But I’m often overwhelmed as my eyes dart from wheel to wheel. Hard cheese vs soft, milky/sweet/strong/spicy, rind or no rind, aged or fresh — so many choices!! That’s where I look to experts like Chef Massimo Bruno for advice. I was fortunate enough to meet him at a recent Loblaws event aimed to promote all-things-Italiano…
Raised in the Southern Italian region of Puglia, Massimo has lived in Toronto since 2001 and knows a thing or two about Italian cheeses. I took full advantage of our time together and asked him how to build the perfect Italian cheese board. Here’s what it would look like at his casa…
“The King of all cheeses” Massimo exclaimed as he lifted a wedge of Parmigiano gloriously into the air. He recommends featuring one that is younger (the minimum maturation time for Parmigiano-Reggiano, which is a DPO product, is 12 months) and one that is aged (24-36 months). Serve with: honey.
This Italian sheep’s milk cheese is firm and salty. Massimo loves the variety from Crotonese, but if you find it difficult to track down, Pecorino Romano is also in the same family of cheeses and is a great addition to any cheese board. Serve with: celery chutney (a simple relish of celery, sugar, sea salt and lemon juice — recipe here).
You’ll usually find two types of Gorgonzola available at Loblaws: Dolce and Piccante. The former is creamy and sweet while the latter is more firm, aged and spicy. Massimo told me he has an emotional attachment to this cheese (even though it’s from the northern part of Italy) so a wedge of Gorgonzola Dolce is something he recommends featuring on your cheese board. Serve with: pear.
This fresh, soft cheese (the inside of Burrata) has a special place in Chef Massimo Bruno’s heart. He told me that when he builds a cheese board he wants it to tell a story — and since he’s from Puglia (where Burrata is made), Stracciatella is how he’d represent his home on the board. Serve with: Nothing! Chef Massimo thinks the cheese is too good to mess with.
As a self-professed cheeseaholic, I’m drooling as I write this post. I’ve tried all the cheeses and pairings above and can tell you that Chef Massimo’s recommendations are spot on. The best part? All of the ingredients you need to build an authentic Italian cheese board are avail at Loblaws. Woot!
A huge thanks to Loblaws for inviting me to the “From Italy with Amore” event and for sponsoring this post. And thanks to Chef Massimo Bruno for teaching me how build the perfect Italian cheese board. As always, reviews and opinions are my own.