A couple of weeks ago my local Whole Foods ran a special on Parmesan cheese called Parmageddon. Basically all of the parmesan cheese was on massive discount and people (including myself) were stocking up like a war was coming and we planned to be fully sustained by aged cheese. Which, like I totally would be, by the way.
So now I'm facing literally a drawer full of parmesan cheese and thought "What a great chance this is to blog a whole series on the various uses of parm!" So here we are.
Parmesan cheese is an aged cow's milk cheese originating from the Parma and Lombardi regions in Italy. The cheese is said to have been made for a while prior to the middle ages in Italy, but it gained popularly during that time. The cheese itself is made from only grass-fed cow's milk. During the cheese-making process, the resulting whey from making parmesan is taken and fed to pigs in the Parma region to produce the famed Prosciutto di Parma -- a natural companion to parmesan cheese on a traditional antipasto dish. After the cheese is curdled it's placed into stainless steel forms to produce the classic parmesan wheel shape, then aged for minimum two years. Parmesan is prized for its nutty and sharp flavor. The texture is hard and crumbly, getting more crumbly as it's aged longer, making it perfect for grating or chiseling.
Parmesan has been around for a very long time. Many medieval Italian recipes call for simple uses for parmesan, including a basic pasta tossed in butter or olive oil and then served with lots of grated parmesan. Equally often found are recipes of dumplings or pasta (think tortellini) served in a seasoned broth and topped with mounds of grated parmesan cheese. Modern times and cross-cultural ideas see parmesan cheese being used in a variety of ways, from infusing broths or serving as crusts and crackers. One undeniable truth is the simplicity and perfection of a good parmesan cheese has staying power over the years and will most certainly continue to do so.
This week's series will find five ways to use parmesan cheese, from simple serving to incorporating it into the dish in various ways. To begin day 1 I suggest serving it the way it has been served for hundreds of years throughout Italy: by itself, with some good cured meat, and a drizzle of good balsamic vinegar.
If you like salty and savory snacks then you must try this. Nutty and savory parmesan cheese pairs perfectly with a dry, heavily spiced meat like salami. There are various kinds of salami to choose from -- I love the calabrian soppressata made with wine and decidedly spiced on the spicy side personally, but use what you love. To balance out the savory and salt going on the brilliant Italians serve a small drizzle of sweet balsamic vinegar right on top of the cheese. The resulting ménage a trois is simple perfection. Just add a glass (or two) of your favorite wine and you have a most wonderful snack or appetizer to enjoy for the ages.
Parmesan with Balsamic and Salami
1 wedge good quality imported parmesan cheese
1 dry cured salami -- recommend soppressata in the style of calabri
good imported balsamic vinegar
Using a cheese chisel or sturdy knife, begin chiseling out chunks of the parmesan cheese. Don't bother cutting it into nice uniform squares; parmesan is too aged to get that kind of cut. Rather go for rustic chunks here, all different sizes and shapes.
Conversely, slice the salami into thin beautiful rounds. Remember to take the casing off if your salami comes with it (most good quality dry salamis will).
I like serving this grouped -- cheese on one side in a pile and salami in another. Take the balsamic vinegar and give a small drizzle right on top of the cheese.
No need for salt and pepper, as both the cheese and salami are heavily spiced on both. And no need for olive oil or anything as the salami has its own fat. Simply serve at room temperature as is. A good Italian crusty bread on the side is optional but certainly not even needed.