When it comes to cooking, it's not unusual for Parmigiano Reggiano to factor disproportionately into your arsenal of recipes. Especially now, when everything seems to be gratin-ed, casserole-ed, or pudding-ed, anything that can act as a sub is more than welcome, especially if it comes with not only a lower price tag, but also an equally amazing taste.
And with a heartwarming success story of a small business's triumph over corporate America, it somehow seems an appropriate addition to your Thanksgiving table.
The name of the cheese is SarVecchio, and we challenge you to find a cheese of this style — that is, aged, crystalline, nutty, and grate-able — that's as straight-up tasty. There's an in-your-face sweetness that accompanies the cheese; you could almost describe it as sugary. So it's a truly great harmonizer with all of the season's sweet-slash-savory side dishes that require a cheesey bite. It has a saltiness that's unique to parmesan-style cheeses, but that salt is there to balance the sweetness rather than to take a center stage presence.
Because it's less dry than parmesan, SarVecchio actually makes a better melter. And it's more snackable, too. Excellent with wine, beer, and cocktails, it'll make easy transition from your cutting board in the kitchen to the cutting board during your appetizer hour. Its sweetness will be better suited to Thanksgiving meals than parm, which can sometimes be so salty in a briny, overpowering kind of way.
Now for the cheese story, good enough to tell around the table: In varying forms, SarVecchio has been made since the 1940's in Antigo, Wisconsin, in a cheese plant that used to be a Kraft factory. The cheeses that came out of that particular plant were always somehow superior to others of the same style that were coming from other places. No one knew how to explain it. Maybe it was the milk, or the makers, but this American-style parmesan from Antigo, Wisconsin, was special.
In 1993, however, Philip Moris purchased Kraft. Accordingly, the Antigo cheese plant, producer of such special and unique cheese, went along with the deal. Rather than say sayonara to the cheese that they'd been making for years, the employers of the plant took a leap of faith and decided to buy their property from Kraft.
It was hard to go out on their own, especially that first year, when it became clear to the new (now co-operative) group of owners that disassociating from a large company proved to be a tremendous financial challenge. But the employees of the plant had full confidence in their product, and they kept on, making a great product that they believed in, with serious attention to detail. They refused to become victim to a massive corporation's goal to increase production at all costs.
Clearly, they've succeeded in getting (more than) back on their feet and the cheese is as delicious as it's ever been... and consistently so, which isn't always so easy to do!
Now a family-run company called Sartori Foods owns the Antigo branch, but the original cheese is still being made under the artisan line offered by Sartori. For many years the name of this cheese was Stravecchio, but now it is officially through with all the hand-offs, and the name SarVecchio is here to stay.
Current cheesemaker Larry Steckbauer, a master of parmesan and romano cheeses, puts it best: SarVecchio is "candy cheese." Maybe a search for sweet, cheesy recipes is in order.
You can find SarVecchio at Murray's Cheese for $15.99/lb. Look for it everywhere, though! We've seen it in Whole Foods and other local cheese shops, as well.
Nora Singley is an avid lover of cheese, and for some time she was a cheesemonger and the Director of Education at Murray's Cheese Shop in New York City, where she continues to teach cheese classes for the public. She is currently an assistant TV chef on The Martha Stewart Show.
(Image: Squirrel Bread, used with permission)