Which grated cheese would you choose? Of equal importance, which Wine would you select as well?
Ever since I can remember, it was always about the cheese. There was no such thing as Sunday “macaroni and gravy” without one kind of grated cheese or another. So, depending on what part of Italy your family is from, that would go a long way in deciding your favorite cheese. Today, we have accessibility to all of the most popular cheeses. And frankly, each one has their place and I do, in fact, love them all. We have Pecorino and Reggiano Parmigiano, along with Grana Padano, and let’s not forget my Sicilian favorite – Pepato. Depending on the dish, fresh Riccota fits in and brings additional flavors and textures. Ricotta Salad is another favorite. Some of my memories growing up were that friendly banter at whoever was taking the longest to pass the cheese. As true as it was then, it becomes even funnier as I watch it today with my kids. I might also add that if ever there was a food that could invoke memories, grated cheese and macaroni is right up there.
Pecorino, Reggiano Parmigiano, and Grana Padano? Or how about Pepato, or a Ricotta Salad? Or maybe just plain Ricotta? Which would you prefer? Let me explain some of the differences: ⠀⠀
Parmigiano Reggiano is an Italian hard, granular cheese. Made from cow’s milk, its earthy, umami, unparalleled flavor, known as is ‘Il Grande Formaggio’, the ‘King of Cheeses’ (actual nickname), must be aged for a minimum of one year, but often aged up to 18, 24, or even 36 months. This increases its rich and grainy characteristic texture. It is named after the producing areas – the provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, and parts of Bologna.⠀⠀⠀
Grana Padano is made from cow’s milk, similar to that of Parmigiano. The governing regulations of this cheese allow dairy producers from the region of Po to contribute their raw milk from the entire region. It has a minimum aging requirement of 9 months, resulting in a less concentrated and slightly sweeter flavor and a less granular texture. It is also very inexpensive as a result. ⠀⠀⠀
Pecorino Romano is made from sheep’s milk. It is sharp, salty, and aggressive in flavor, and is aged between 5 and 8 months. Locatelli is a popular brand. But more importantly, it comes from Sardegna (still, a very underrated part of the world when it comes to cheese and olive oil). Sheep’s milk is a completely different flavor, not even close to that of cow’s milk.
Pepato Sicilian or Pecorino Pepato is a semi-hard cheese, sheep milk cheese produced in Sicily. Peppercorns are used to flavor this cheese at the separation of whey. Any regional Sicilian cooking class will no doubt have Pepato in most of their dishes.
Ricotta Salata is made from sheep’s milk whey. It is pressed, salted, and aged for 90 days. It is one of my favorites for kinds of pasta, or with just a glass of wine. If this is a cheese you have never used on a dish, or pasta, or macaroni, give it a try! You will pleasantly be surprised.
All three of these flavorful cheeses have the Protected Designation of Origin status in Italy, otherwise known as “Denominazione di Origine Protetta” or DOP. What that means is their production methods and areas and, most of all, their timing, are all rigorously monitored by the EU. Once they pass the detailed inspections, they get their name, production date, and DOP seal stamped right on their rind. That’s how you know it’s authentic.⠀⠀
Cheeses simply labeled as either “ROMANO” or “PARMESAN” are definitely not the DOP variety, and could be made with either cow’s, sheep’s, or goat’s milk. And or a mix of milk, or even reconstituted dry milk, as fresh whole Raw milk is not required.
Now knowing all this about your cheese selection, tell me which cheese you would choose. And of equal importance, what wine would you in fact use for this dish of Macaroni (fusilli) with a braised pork rib ragu?