The focus of previous Friday Nibbles has been very much on the frugal side of cooking. Items featured have been, invariably, cheap and in possession of an innate versatility that renders them almost essential for any kitchen store cupboard whether you are an accomplished chef or a mere beginner when it comes to matters culinary.
But with the world’s economy crumbling like stale bread, banks collapsing like a series of failed soufflés and trillions of dollars going up in smoke like fish fingers left under the grill (apologies, but I ran out of analogies there), a little luxury might be needed in order to raise a smile. Not luxury in the manner to which we have become worryingly accustomed, I’m not talking of white truffles or Jamon d’Iberico, more like small luxuries, more luxury in terms of simple pleasures that are almost guaranteed to raise a smile.
Parmesan is a little luxury. It’s slightly too expensive to be on a weekly shopping list but cheap enough to be bought without feeling any pangs of guilt. It doesn’t go off so you needn’t worry about leaving it too long on the fridge and I can think of no better way to watch the encroaching depression than with a big bowl of pasta covered in slightly too much Parmesan cheese melting into it. If it’s all going to shit, might as well forget the healthy eating plan.
But is this cheese worthy of inclusion on the Friday Nibbles Hall of Fame? In a word, yes. Simply, yes. We don’t get through a huge amount of the stuff but there is always a chunk of it in the fridge poised a ready to be grated over steaming pasta, a salad or even a plate of beans on toast. It melts into delightfully stringy strands and lends a real cheesy richness to whatever meal it meets.
Real, genuine Parmesan comes from Parma, Italy and only from Parma. Like Champagne and Stilton, Parmesan is guarded by a PDO – a Protected Designation of Origin – a legally enshrined concept that prevents any Tom, Dick or Harry within the European Union from muscling in on the worthy name of a famed product. We take our foods very seriously here in Europe.
The cheeses are made in huge rounds each weighing about 38 kilos (80 pounds) before they are cut into more manageable chunks and exported all over the world and have enjoyed a notable reputation for many centuries. During the Great Fire of London in 1666, diarist Samuel Pepys buried his Parmesan in the ground to prevent it from being damaged by the flames:
‘…in the evening Sir W. Penn and I did dig another [pit] and put our wine in it, and I my parmazan as well as my wine and some other things.’ 4th September 1666, Diary of Samual Pepys.
So wonderful to hear a voice from centuries ago speaking of cheese with such love and referring to his ‘other’ items with such casual flippancy. Truly a man after my own heart.