Craggy chunks hewn from a huge round, placed on our table unadorned yet with reverence. This was how our waiter chose to finish our Venetian feast at the beautiful canal-side Hotel Monaco.
It spoke of respect, elegance and tradition and summed up both Parmesan as a cheese and Italian food in general for me – confidence and simplicity.
Parmesan as a table cheese rather than a condiment has been a revelation on my Italian adventure.
I’d eaten it in Bologna served simply with a selection of shaved meats. And here in Venice it was presented almost as a palette cleanser. Something to nibble whilst we considered dessert. But both times it was nutty, fruity and just a little salty. The tastes lingered in your mouth, the sure fire sign of a cheese of great quality.
I loved that this cheese was so different to the dried out wedges that often sit for weeks, if not months, in my fridge door. Sometimes it was cut, they were half centimetre-think chunks we ate in Bologna, but my favourite were the shards like these.
I’ve noticed that Parmesan in Italy is broken off the round using a pointed trowel-like knife. It certainly highlights its grainy, slightly crystalline structure and lends it a certain rustic beauty.
Maybe it is time to pay this ancient cheese more attention? Be careful to buy DOP Parmesan, and be aware that while Grana Padano is similar, it is not made to such rigorous specifications and perhaps lacks some of the complexity of flavours.
So my cheesey friends, As I wend my way to France, I look forward to taking some Italian confidence home with me, and serving this delicious cheese as it is, simple yet rich, rustic yet surprisingly elegant.