Thursday, May 17, 2012

Garantito IGP: Sometimes "Without" is Better than "With"

This time Stefano takes the stand.

It's true, to fully understand certain problems or illnesses one must experience them personally. Or worse, through loved ones.

Without calling up really serious ills, let's look at something fairly widespread and that is increasing steadily in the developed world: Food allergies and intolerances. From Celiac Disease to many other lesser known but very common problems that powerfully impact the lives of those afflicted, imposing discomforts and denials that can be very difficult to live with.

It has happened in my family.

And because of this, of late we have been much more aware of products "for": For diabetics, Celiac disease, and many other problems whose names I don't know. And I cannot help but think of the extremely slight enjoyability (I'm being nice) many of the surrogates Industry develops to give those forced to do without the illusion of milk, sugar, chocolate, bread, and so on.

The same thing happened to Nicola Bertinelli, the heir to a family of dairymen that began herding in 1895, and make Parmigiano Reggiano in Medesano (province of Parma): Irony of ironies, destiny saddled him with a mixture of lactose, sugar and gluten intolerance.

Since Bertinelli is both dynamic and creative (within the cheeseworks he has opened a restaurant-dancehall, the "Barlumeria," with the cheesemaking equipment and aging cheeses all around, where until the wee hours he serves, in addition to nibbles and spritzes, snaks and local foods, and even white white fresh milk), one would expect him to have done something, and he did: Invent a cheese without lactose, sugar, or gluten.

A good idea, of course. Perhaps even commercially viable. But, so far, not revolutionary.

Thus when, during the ASET trip to Cibus last week, they gave me a cube of this cheese "for the allergic," called "Senza" (Without), I approached it with curiosity and interest, but without expecting much, as I thought it would be the usual product emptied of all "evil" and therefore, of all taste as well. And I ignored the cheesemaker, who was saying, "Granted, it's not as good as a 36-month old Parmigiano, but..."

A serious mistake, on my part. Because when I got home and opened the sample package, I was greatly surprised. "Senza" really is a cheese. It tastes like one, and is good, really good. So good that if you didn't know you wouldn't realize it was dietetic.

To begin with, a nice milky aroma, deep and full, penetrating and intense, and dry, almost that of fresh Parmigiano, whose texture it also echoes. Very compact, and elastic; it looks quite homogenous but upon chewing it displays a pleasant micrograinyness that makes it much more similar to its noble Cousin than one might have at first thought.

The most surprising thing is the taste, however. Quite savory, with sweetish accents that are quite balanced and not at all cloying, long and full, but not aggressive. At first blush it brings moderately aged hand-crafted Swiss to mind, but then the flavors of Parmigiano emerge, young Parmigiano, but this cheese's flavors last longer, and are very pleasant, making this cheese perfect not just for those who "must" eat it because they have no alternatives, but for cheese lovers in general. The body of the cheese, which is an unusual mix of cohesion and (moderate) crumbliness makes it pleasant to nibble by the chunk: For the first time ever I found myself arguing with a food-intolerant person for the last bit of his product.

Impressive, if you ask me.

"Senza" is sold in vacuum packed 200, 300 and 500 g (lightly less than a half pound to slightly more than a pound) packages; in addition to being sold at the cheeseworks, it can be found in many Italian delis, and will soon be available in supermarkets as well. "Senza" is also in the pipeline to be certified as dietetic, which means it will soon be sold in pharmacies too.

The price? Suggested retail price is 14 Euros/k, while at the cheeseworks it sells for a little less.

Want to know more about the cheeseworks, the Barlumeria and the other things they do:

Last but not least: "Ours," says Luca, "is a vertically integrated farm, in that all the products from the fields, which are managed organically, go to feed the animals that produce the milk we use to make our cheeses."

Published Simultaneously by IGP, I Giovani Promettenti.

We Are:
Carlo Macchi
Kyle Phillips
Luciano Pignataro
Roberto Giuliani
Stefano Tesi

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