The Parmigiano Reggiano Consortium would like the pleasure of your company for a cheese and wine tasting…
We cannot travel to Italy. Even if we have the time and the airfare and the burning desire to eat and drink wonderful Italian food and wine, we are landlocked in our own city. Italy knows how we feel, and with empathy and love, Italy has come to us. An invitation came from The Parmigiano Reggiano Consortium, the body that was set up in 1934 with the purpose of protecting, defending and promoting the product, safeguarding its typicality and disseminating its knowledge worldwide.
To prepare us for our culinary journey, a courier delivers a sleek wooden box of comestibles.
It holds three separate maturations of Parmigiano Reggiano: 12-month, 22-month and 36-month, and for pairing, bottles of Barone Pizzini Animante Franciacorta, Coffele Valpolicella and Laphroig Quarter Cask. Carr’s wafers are tucked into the box as well.
Andrea Robuschi, an expert in the field, comes to us from within a vast cheese maturation hall, surrounded by huge rounds of Parmigiano Reggiano. We’d like to dive right in. Matching the age to the type of beverage, he asks us to crack open a chunk of the 12-month-old and smell the rough edge. We smell the harmonious and delicate flavour with scents of milk, yoghurt and fresh butter, and pair it with Franciacorte, the Classic Method ‘spumante’ of Italy. We appreciate the complex aromas, and on the palate, stone fruit flavours, spice and florality, leading into a finish with savory creaminess. This is a lovely and light pairing. The very able wine curator Will Predhomme, one of the sommeliers at Gargoyle Wine Club, has curated a perfect selection of beverages.
The 22-month cheese is my favourite. Soluble, crumbly and grainy with the right balance of pungency, with notes of fresh fruit, nuts and meat stock. This is what I use for adding flavour to traditional Italian dishes such as Risotto and Minestrone. It pairs perfectly with the Valpolicella, with its rich and intense aromas full of red and black fruit and a hint of herbaceousness. As a bonus, Parmigiano Reggiano is Lactose-free. While some might call this pairing middle-of-the-road, I prefer “surprisingly delicious” to “shocking the palate.”
And shocking indeed is the next pairing of 36-month maturation, which releases aromas such as nutmeg and pepper, with Laphroig Quarter Cask Scotch. I take a bit of cheese, and a sip of Scotch. When first tasted, there is a sweet and velvety feel, and then boom, the intense peatiness announces itself, and the inside of my lips become numb. More cheese please, and a cracker.
Once we’ve said Grazie mille and Ciao and turned off the screen, I make myself comfortable with the Valpolicella and the remaining 22-month old Parmigiano Reggiano, and flip my daydream channel to a week in Italy.
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Sara Waxman is an award-winning restaurant critic, best-selling cookbook author, food and travel journalist and has eaten her way through much of the free world for four decades, while writing about it in books, newspapers and magazines. She is the Editor in Chief of DINE and Destinations magazine.