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Wednesday, February 13, 2008


It must be "Greatest Hits" week because I'm posting another article I wrote last year. This one is about our favorite 80-lb Italian cheese: Parmigiano-Reggiano. For those of you who have been looking for something to do with that thick, waxy rind, I include a recipe I made up myself. Enjoy!

Parmigiano-Reggiano And What To Do With The Rind

Anyone who has ever been in a reputable cheese shop or Italian food store has undoubtedly seen hulking wheels of Parmigiano-Reggiano, their 80-lb bulk sometimes acting as tables to display more diminutive cheeses. Upon inspection of the “grating cheese” section of the shop, confusion often abounds. In addition to Parmigiano-Reggiano, one might also find lower priced facsimiles, such as Reggianito, and “parmesan.”

So, if Parmigiano-Reggiano sells for, say, $13.99/lb; Reggianito for $6.99/lb; and parmesan for even less, why should anyone spend the extra money, especially when Parmigiano-Reggiano has a thick, gnarly looking rind attached to most of the cut pieces?

Because Parmigiano-Reggiano is the real thing, whereas the others are imposters. It’s not mere snobbery that should guide your decision, but flavor and tradition. Reggianito and parmesan have little of the burst of complex flavor that Parmigiano-Reggiano has; they are mostly salty, often oddly acidic, and lack character, requiring far more cheese to register on your tastebuds. So, yes, Reggiano costs more per pound, but you will use less of it to get more flavor than the ersatz “parmesans.” Try them side-by-side; you’ll see.

Parmigiano-Reggiano is a DOP (Denominazione di Origine Protetta) cheese, which means its production - hence its authenticity - is guaranteed by Italian law. (For more information on Protected Designations of Origin, please see http://ec.europa.eu/agriculture/foodqual/quali1_en.htm ) No other cheese in the world may use the name “Parmigiano” or “Reggiano.” This is why Argentina calls its aged cow’s milk cheese “Reggianito,” and various cheesemakers across the world make “parmesan.” To learn more about Parmigiano-Reggiano, it is worth visiting the Consorzio del Formaggio Parmigiano-Reggiano website, http://www.parmigiano-reggiano.it/. The English version is not translated very well, but there are beautiful pictures, and you’ll get some sense of why this cheese is so special.

Now, onto that gnarly rind. Chances are, when you buy a piece of Parmigiano-Reggiano, one edge will have the rind still attached. Although some die-hard caseophiles eat the rind, most people will find its hard, waxy texture disagreeable. So do you just throw it away? That would be a waste of good cheese, let alone money. If chewing on it isn’t your style, do what many Italians do, and cook with it.

Although the rind feels waxy, it’s not made of wax. It is actually cheese, but it’s been rubbed and oiled to the point where it no longer resembles food. But it is, as I found out this evening, when I added a nice piece of rind to a soup I was cooking that needed a little extra something. You can add it to stews, stocks, sauces, or anything that contains enough bubbling liquid to melt the cheese down. Try my recipe and let me know what you think. It’s very easy.

Please note: I learned to cook from my Mother, and measurements are rarely Standard Cookbook English. “A squirt” and “a sprinkle” are really just that. If your squirt and sprinkle aren’t the same as mine, the recipe should still taste as good. The food I cook is more of an art than a science.

CheeseSnobWendy’s Leafy-Vegetable Soup
Serves 6-8

For this recipe, you’ll need a blender, a big stock pot, and a big heat-resistant bowl (or another big stock pot)

2 bunches of leafy greens, such as collard greens, spinach, kale, or chard (choose two different ones if you like)
1 quart of chicken broth or stock (if you are vegetarian, use vegetable broth or stock)
2 yellow onions (not Spanish onions)
2 tablespoons of oil, such as olive, grapeseed, or canola (sesame won’t work here)
the juice from one lemon (don’t insult the soup and use lemon juice from a jar. squeeze a damn lemon, already!)
2 cans of white beans
rind from Parmigiano-Reggiano (I used rind from a ½-lb piece, and I cut about ¼-inch down, but your mileage may vary)
a small squirt of hot sauce
a sprinkle of dried basil
salt and pepper to taste

1. Prepare the greens. Tear off the thickest part of the stems, on the bottoms of each leaf. Wash the greens thoroughly.
2. Peel the onions and slice them very thin.
3. On the stove, heat a big stock pot over medium heat. Add the oil.
4. When the oil shimmers, add the onions.
5. Let them cook for a few minutes until they become translucent and smell good.
6. Add the leafy greens. Using tongs or a spatula, flip them around a bit.
7. Add a sprinkle of dried basil and some salt and pepper
8. Put the lid on the pot, and let it cook for a few minutes.
9. When the color of the greens becomes brighter, add the entire quart of broth or stock. Put the lid back on and let it cook for a few more minutes.
10. Then, a little bit at a time, put some greens, onions, and liquid into the blender, and blend on low, until the solids are pretty well chopped up. (Don’t try to blend too much at a time, or you’ll make a bad mess and burn yourself. It took me about 8 trips to the blender to puree this soup.) As you blend a batch, put it in the big bowl or other pot.
11. When all the soup is blended, put it back into the stock pot, and heat over very low heat.
12. Add lemon juice, a small squirt of hot sauce (this is not for heat, but to marry and brighten the flavors), the Parmigiano-Reggiano rind, and some more basil, salt and pepper if it needs it.
13. Let the soup simmer. Stir occasionally.
14. The soup is done when the greens are the color you like and the rind has partly dissolved. This really does vary. Then, just before serving, stir in the two cans of white beans, and simmer just enough to heat the beans. It won’t take long.

Cheese Snob Wendy is the proprietor of www.cheesesnob.com, where you can find everything about cheese except actual cheese.

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