Archive for June, 2012
Following the event this June 14th hosted by the Consortium for Pecorino Toscano DOP , we thought to share some of the history of this simply delicious cheese and trace its roots from the middle ages through the 18th century. Be sure to check out the previous post on the event which discusses not only the event but the amazing styles this cheese is available in stateside.
From the Etruscans to the Middle Ages
For the Etruscans this was really the “Madre Terra” or Mother Land. The coastal pine covered plains, rich with abundant fruit and game, which opened towards rich pastures were just perfect for the development of agriculture and the grazing of domestic animals. Even further inland the fertile hills covered with olive tress are lined with the famous cypress trees still synonymous today with the Tuscan countryside.
In this fertile land, they also found abundant fish from the sea, its rivers, its lakes as well as a richness of minerals. The Etruscans were masters at working iron and this land offered them opportunity of developing this art. The natural mineral springs that would erupt from the earth added to the plenty and fascination of this land.
The Etruscans grazed their sheep on the same ample pastures where today one can see sheep grazing, often near an ancient relic of centuries past. The modern cheese plants of today have replaced the rudimentary cheese making of other times.
The Etruscans used vegetable rennet and produced very large wheels which would feed a family for a long time. Today animal rennet is used and of course the wheels are smaller. Much has remained the same. The pride and tradition of both shepherds and cheese makers has never waivered, and the sweet Tuscan milk from the sheep grazing on the rich pastures that range from the Appenine Hills down to the sea continue to gives us the very special and delicate Pecorino Toscano.
THE MIDDLE AGES
During the Middle Ages the breeding of sheep represented an important economic activity and was developed throughout all of the territory, even though less extensive than the breeding of pigs. Particularly in the area of Tuscany, the breeding of sheep continued to grow in importance.
Historical Note: The year 1200 gave us a legendary episode: a young boy, tending a flock of sheep in the Mugello area was drawing on a stone in the pasture. It happened that the painter Cimabue (known as the “Father of the Renaissance”) was passing by and observed this young boy drawing. He understood immediately the artistic genius of the boy and persuaded him to return with him to his atelier in Florence. The young shepherd boy by the name of GIOTTO went on to become one of the most renowned painters of all times!
The most ancient documents mention the Pecorino as Cacio Marzolino. The historian Bartolomeo Platina in his famous treatise penned in the year 1475 declares the Marzolino d’Etruria the best cheese in Italy while comparing it to Parmigiano Reggiano.
Pope Pius II (of the famous Piccolomini family) while travelling in the area of the Val d’Orcia was so struck by the quality and taste of the cheese that he included the incident in the story of his life in 1463. It was during this period that the breeding of sheep reached its peak in Tuscany, for several reasons: the production of wool, the meat of the lambs which was prized, and the production of cheese which was dependent mostly on the shepherds who used it as payment to land owners. A part would go towards family consumption and the rest to be sold in the local villages. During the ensuing years the production of the cheese did not actually follow any specific norm or rules. For many years, the cheese making was the responsibility of one person in a family. This was an effort ensure and maintain a certain continuity in the quality.
In the late 18th century, official documents of the City of Florence show where the author Francesco Molinelli declares that the “Caci” of Tuscany, both fresh and aged, will never relinquish their position of being the best, and goes on to cite various examples from all over the Region of Tuscany. He goes on in detail with regard to the Marzolino, the manner of curing and keeping the cheese, the particulars of the sheep breeding, and makes mention in his famous document of the talent of the young ladies who at the time were the experts in producing these cheeses noting this expertise of theirs represented a very rare and special “dowry”!
Now that Summer is upon us, and we have officially begun the season, our anticipation of upcoming sun drenched weekends is fueled by thoughts of garden parties, get together, picnics and dinner parties.
I like to take advantage of the indoor time an occasional rain shower provides and clean the pantry, fridge, and freezer stocking up on authentic, quality ingredients.
For me that means a visit to my favorite Italian specialty markets and wine shops as well as combing the Italian aisle of my grocery store. When you keep your pantry stocked with authentic Italian ingredients you can prepare a delicious, healthy dish, reminiscent of those you’ve had in your travels or at your favorite Italian restaurant in no time! One of the most important reasons to buy quality, authentic Italian ingredients is that it makes your cooking life simpler. These ingredients make a delicious dish very simple because the ingredients speak for themselves. You don’t have to overdo anything in the kitchen when you consider quality and freshness part of the ingredients.
To help you keep your cooking Stress Free and authentic I am including shopping lists for the pantry, fridge, and freezer below. This way you can spend less time in the grocery store and more time cooking. I would rather be home in my bunny slippers, listening to my favorite music, sipping wine while preparing dinner for my family than standing in a take out or grocery store line. This will also put us on the road to healthier eating. When you cook more at home you are more in control of your diet, especially when you pride yourself on purchasing and using quality ingredients. I also find that it more relaxing and satisfying to be at home enjoying a meal that I’ve prepared and paired with a great wine – all Italian, of course. Remember to cook with a wine that is good enough to drink, not with what is labeled cooking wine. So let’s take a look at our kitchen pantries, fridges, and freezers so that we can cook more and be healthier and more relaxed!
Below the featured recipe I’ve shared a list of stock items that will be discussed in more details in future blog posts!
But first Orecchiette with Pancetta & Zucchini!
This dish is reminiscent of one that I enjoyed while visiting Soave, Italy.
Soave produces delicious crisp white wines that are easy drinking and wonderful for cooking. I am including this recipe in today’s blog because it is made from ingredients that are easily kept on hand. I always like to keep a nice Soave from Italy’s Veneto region in the fridge personally. This lovely white wine made from Garganega grapes compliments many dishes to perfection!
1/2-pound Orecchiette pasta
1-tablespoon Italian extra virgin olive oil
4 ounces Pancetta, Speck or Prosciutto, finely diced
2 cups zucchini that has been halved and sliced thinly, about 2 small-medium (or any favorite green vegetable such as broccoli or broccoli rabe)
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
½ teaspoon Fine Sea salt (4 pinches)
1/8 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
Chicken stock, about ½ cup
Cook pasta to al dente stage in a large pot of boiling water. Drain and set aside.
Place olive oil and Pancetta, Speck or Prosciutto in large sauté pan. Cook until it begins to brown. Add garlic & zucchini. Cook just until zucchini begins to become tender, about 2 minutes. Add chicken stock, salt & pepper. Cook until chicken stock is heated. Add pasta and mix well. Finish with little more olive oil and garnish with a quality cheese such as Grana Padano or Parmigiano Reggiano.
The dish I enjoyed during my stay in Soave was garnished with hot red pepper strands called Peperoncino Rosso Tagliato Sottile , but you can use crushed red pepper as a substitute, if desired.
For additional recipes please visit my Facebook page, Stress Free Cooking with Barbara Seelig-Brown, my website www.stressfreecooking.com or take a peek at my cookbooks.
Extra Virgin Olive-a variety of price ranges and flavor profiles
Vinegars – Balsamic, White Balsamic and Wine
Sea Salt – fine grind
Italian Herb Blends
Crushed Red Pepper
Garlic – fresh, whole heads-they should be heavy in the hand when purchasing
Pepper Corns and a good quality pepper mill
All Purpose Flour
Light Brown Sugar
Imported Pastas – a variety of shapes and sizes keeps dishes interesting
Rice including Arborio and Carnaroli for Risotto
Beans – canned, a variety to include: black beans, pink beans, chickpeas, and small white beans
Evaporated Skim Milk
Canned Broth and Stock – Chicken, Beef, Mushroom, Vegetable
Imported San Marzano PDO tomatoes; diced, crushed, tomato paste, whole plum
Italian tuna packed in Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Fruits – preserved, diced, canned
Gorgonzola Dolce Molto Cremoso PDO
Fresh Mozzarella di Bufala Campana PDO
Grana Padano PDO
Parmigiano Reggiano PDO
Pecorino Toscano Stagionato PDO
Eggs – Large
Italian White Wine
Lemons, Limes, Oranges
Salad Greens, A variety of types, textures, and colors
Fresh Baby Spinach
Fresh Herbs – Basil, Oregano, Rosemary
Sun Dried Tomatoes
Filled Pastas such as Tortellini, Agnolotti, Ravioli
Homemade Bread Crumbs-made from your leftover Artisanal breads
String Beans – whole
Ground Beef and/or Buffalo
Turkey Cuts such as ground, breast, sausage
Chicken Breast, Boneless & Skinless, Individually Wrapped
Roasting Chickens 5-6 lb., washed and then frozen
Large Shrimp, Cooked, Peeled & Deveined
Large Shrimp, Uncooked, Peeled & Deveined
Individually frozen fish fillets such as whiting, halibut
Individually frozen center cut port chops
Blueberries, Raspberries, Strawberries
Additional Items: Anything you love to cook with!
By keeping these items on hand, you will be able to come home from a busy day and put together a colorful, delicious meal in no time!
About Barbara Seelig Brown:
Barbara Seelig-Brown is the host of Stress Free Cooking on PBS and Foodytv.tv and the author of the companion cookbook. An Italian-American, who cooked with her mother and grandmothers, she wants to share the joys of cooking for family and friends with her viewers and readers. Travelling to Italy as often as possible, she brings her appreciation for authentic Italian products back to the American kitchen. Barbara invites you to “Put on your bunnyslippers, pour a glass of wine and cook a great meal with me.” Visit her Facebook page Stress Free Cooking with Host Barbara Seelig-Brown, her website www.stressfreecooking.com, or follow her on Twitter @stressfreecook !
This June 14th, Foodies and members of the press converged at Di Palo’s Fine Foods for an evening Celebrating the Flavors of Tuscany hosted by the Consortium for Pecorino Toscano DOP.
Guests were warmly welcomed to a reception upon arrival and invited to indulge a bit in the Flavors of Tuscany at the various tasting stations dotting the counters. A particular favorite among guests was the Pecorino Toscano Station featuring the various styles of this cheese set side by side to be sampled individually and then paired with wonderful Tuscan Wine.
Once guests explored this station, they were invited to continue their adventures in Pecorino Toscano and sample tasty dishes in which it was an ingredient. These delicious small bites effortlessly showed off the versatility of the cheese and the complexity and flavor that Pecorino Toscano DOP can contribute to any dish.
The reception led up to an informative presentation by NYC’s beloved Italian Cheese Guru - Lou Di Palo who was joined by Pecorino Toscano Producer from Il Forteto – Stefano Sarti. What ensued was a brief and vivid discussion about Pecorino Toscano’s inimitable characteristics and flavors, production methods, the consortium and a brief question and answer session.
The evening concluded with a raffle drawing. The prize - a wheel of Pecorino Toscano Stagionato. The Lucky winner was Livio Panebianco. The concilation prizes awarded to all not so bad either!
Also inspired by this authentic Italian Cheese- GRI was called to action and gifted the Consortium’s guests a free year membership. GRI promotes and educates about Authentic Italian Cuisine in the United States and it made perfect sense to take part in the celebration of the flavors of Tuscany as authentic Italian ingredients such as Pecorino Toscano DOP are the foundation of a fantastic meal.
La Cucina Italiana Magazine’s Sabrina Notarnicola was so inspired after tasting this cheese that the Magazine decided to share it with their audience and host a Pecoring Toscano DOP contest of their very own on Facebook. http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10150864819321487&set=a.67953361486.86685.51344486486&type=1&theater
Some tasting notes on Pecorino Toscano in its various forms.
Pecorino Toscano DOP is a young 100% sheep’s milk cheese. It is approximately forty days old when it arrives in the United States. Because it is a young cheese, its flavor is discreet – like a small child at times is shy. Upon first tasting the cheese, one will perceive a hint of sweetness that mingles withTuscan herbs, grass and wildflowers. The texture is silky amazing and the aftertaste on the palate is wonderfully complex but easy to enjoy.
Pecorino Toscano Stagionato DOP is aged for an additional three to four months in Italy. Pecorino Toscano Stagionato DOP is created from locally collected sheep’s milk during September and June. As it ages, the cheese loses its milky white color and takes on a beautiful hay and ivory color. The sweet, silky texture of the original cheese slowly gives way to a sharp, zesty flavor with a brittle texture.
Pecorino Toscano Oro Antico Riserva DOP is handmade by taking a select young, delicious, authentic Pecorino Toscano, burnishing it with olive oil, and aging it in a stone cellar for six months. During aging, more olive oil is applied to the rind as the cheese gets harder and tangier. Finally, each cheese is given a seal of red wax to indicate its special heritage. Oro Antico Riserva has a grainy texture due to the aging process, whereby most traces of moisture escape from within the cheese. Made from 100% ewe’s milk, the flavor is delivered to the back of your tongue with delicate force, imparting overtures of wild herbs and lemongrass. Because sheep’s milk contains a very high percentage of butterfat, Pecorinos are very flavorful but have a tendency to “cry” when they reach room temperature.
This June 2nd, the Italian Trade Commission joined the Consulate General of Italy and other Italian Institutions in celebrating Festa della Repubblica, the Italian National holiday commemorating the decision of the Italian people to elect their new form of government, an Italian Republic, following the Second World War.
On Saturday, Italian Institutions in New York opened their doors and welcomed Italians and Italian Americans to partake in the events planned in tribute of this Italian National holiday.
Italian Trade Commissioner, Aniello Musella, discussed how the day was celebrated at his headquarters: “The breadth of MADE IN ITALY in the United States is a testament not only to the implicit quality of our exports but also speaks to the creativity and the inimitable qualities that Italy alone embodies; transcending all borders and cultural identities. Italian art, history, design, technology, fashion, food and wine rouses, resonates and connects with people on multiple levels, so much so, that they wish to incorporate a part of it into their everyday life. For this reason, we chose to commemorate the Italian National Day at our headquarters with a series of special events to celebrate INSPIRED ITALY in her unique roles of Patron and Muse.”
Kicking off the flurry of events was the United Wines of Italy workshop presented by sommelier Alessandra Rotondi who talked about the influences of Cavour and Ricasoli on Italian enological history. Another special component was the Authentic Italian Lifestyle Lounge. Guests were invited to the Valdora, Prosecco Bar while viewing select images by photographer Matilde Damele and printed fabrics from Inkjet Textile Printing.
A highlight of the lounge was the menswear on display by Italian Fashion House Eredi Pisano’. Rounding out the Italian Lifestyle Experience were representatives from Gruppo Ristoratori Italiani & La Cucina Italiana Magazine who shared their devotion to authentic Italian cuisine & lifestyle as well as information on the important Italian American organization – NIAF.
The final event of the evening, the Aperitivo with de Chirico Cocktail Reception, featured Italian scholar Nicola Lucchi who spoke about Inspired Italy as patron, de Chirico and his work Le Muse inquietanti. The reception also focused on Italy, in her role of muse, presenting select paintings of chinese artist, Simone Gao, inspired by the daily Italian lifestyle experience and ritual – The Espresso.
The reception offered a replete Italian experience and naturally began with an Aperitivo! The one featured in particular was a preview of The Venice Spriz- Italian Cocktail set to hit US shores in mid June !
Captivating espresso aromas will waif throughout the premises and surely provide an authentic espresso bar experience thanks to Agriland Italia. Another special treat, the Lurisia water bar serving spring water sourced from the heart of Piedmont’s Mount Pigna.
To further tantalize the palates of guests, a medley of authentic artisanal cheeses from Atalanta Corporation were presented by epicureans Margaret Cicogna and Lou di Palo of Di Palo’s Fine Foods along with a fine selection of authentic Italian specialty and cured meats sliced to perfection on site by representatives from Parmacotto.
It was a terrific celebration that concluded with a raffle drawing treating winners to the following amazing prizes:
Eredi Pisano’: Finely Crafted Shirt and Tie
Gruppo Ristoratori Italiani: $100 dollar gift certificates to SD 26, Paola’s, Pizza Rustica
La Cucina Italiana Magazine: A Subscription to
Di Palo’s Fine Food:$ 50 Gift Certificate to Di Palo’s Fine Foods
Parmacotto: Mortadella con Pistacchio