Taste Scene

Michael Devlin

Grate when it’s fresh

‘The Cheese…’ It sure is grate!

“Sure, the grated stuff will do the best.” Herself came out with this statement last week when I couldn’t find the Parmigiano Reggiano in the supermarket. I bit back the venomous retort which immediately sprung to mind and inhaled deeply through my nose.
“I think you will find the grated stuff will not do the best,” I said instead and in as level a tone as I could muster, and I continued scanning the shelves with near cyborg intensity.
I eventually found it, of course. A hard triangle of the parmesan was hidden behind some ubiquitous cheddar and we went on our merry way, Herself’s gaff on the world-famous cheese already forgotten. I try not to hold grudges, when at all possible.
Did you know that in the Parma region from which this cheese hails, Parmigiano Reggiano is known only as ‘the Cheese.’
In locals’ eyes there is no other cheese. This factoid I didn’t know either, until I watched Rick Stein visit a cheesery in Italy during one of his last programmes.
I hate food snobbery as much as the next person (I regularly ate red sauce sandwiches as a nipper), but there are a few things I think it’s worth spending a little extra money on, the first being un-grated parmesan.
If you’re living under the ‘eat better, eat less’ motto, you’ll know what I’m talking about here. Generally speaking, you’re not going to be eating slices of parmesan, so I think it’s acceptable to think you can spend a little bit more money on a genuine product and use it sparingly.
And see this proviso of using your parmesan after a week of opening? I can personally affirm, this is nonsense. So long as the parmesan is within its use-by date, it’s fair game, even after weeks of being opened.
All I tend to do is seal my opened knobbly triangle in clingfilm and it’s happy as Larry.
The pre-grated stuff just doesn’t taste the same, isn’t even in the same housing estate. The texture is wrong and in place of that fruity, nutty depth of flavour, it’s woody and bland.
Don’t get me wrong, if it’s a choice of eating spag bol with any cheese or no cheese, I’ll always opt for any cheese every day (I even once used Stilton as a replacement) but for maximum effect, you want Parmigiano Reggiano. It’s just the best for the pasta topping job.
Did you know too that the cheese next to the rind is the tastiest cheese in the block? A cheese-maker told me that once, and I haven’t forgotten.
It’s because the cheese starts maturing from the outside in. To that flavour-benefit end, I always make sure to use the parmesan right down to the nub, and then the rind is retained for use in my next soup or stock.
Of course, if you were being uber-prepared about things, you could always pre-grate your own cheese, but the longer it sits in the open air, the quicker the oxidisation process will take place and the quicker the flavour will disappear.
Think of when you cut an apple up and it turns brown.
It’s the same thing with the parmesan, only granted, it doesn’t go brown and the decaying process is slower. You might retain the full flavour for a week after it’s been grated but after that, the taste will start to drop off.
It’s the same concept when it comes to black pepper. The freshly ground stuff is always going to taste better than the pre-ground stuff and for the same reasons; there’s a distinct smell when you grind black pepper and that’s flavour oils being released as the corns as crushed.
That’s why, for example, freshly ground black pepper always tastes deadly on top of a hot pizza.
“Hang on Devlin, I see cooks like Mary Berry using pre-ground pepper in her dishes and I’d say she knows the craic more than you!”
She probably does know the craic more than me, but in this instance she’s only cooking for show on the telly, you’re cooking for maximum taste at home.
Tell her to give me a call, I’ll set her right.
And speaking of pizza, having you ever tried a dusting of parmesan after it comes out of the oven?
It’s grate!

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