We're spending some time this week with European food, and so I decided to inflict some serious pain by looking back on my photos from a month-long jaunt to Europe I took last summer, just to see what cheese-related lessons I could share. Or reshare. With hundreds of photos to choose from, I had a hard time picking, but here are my top five European cheese takeaways.
1. Eat cheese plain.
Eating cheese without bread is the best way to appreciate cheese. The more you get used to tasting cheese alone, the more you'll realize that bread can actually obstruct your experience. The Europeans have this pretty much mastered.
2. Eating cheese for dinner is perfectly acceptable.
3. Finishing pizza with gratings of parmigiano-reggiano is a grossly underemployed pizza-topping tactic.
There's something really great that happens when a pizzaiola finishes a pie with parm. One version I ate forever changed the way I experienced pizza. I even wrote an ode to honor its creativity: it simulates eggplant parmesan with its addition of parmigiano. Parm doesn't have the typical melting capabilities of cheese: it melts, sure, but not in a stringy, gooey kind of way. With the extreme heat of a pizza oven, it becomes crispy, nearly toasted, and adds a totally welcome salty bite. Of if you opt to top when out of the oven, you get that unmelted, satisfying flavor of straight-up parm, a welcome contrast to the inevitably mozzarella-laden pie that lies beneath.
4. Pay no mind to any preaching you've heard that cheese and fish don't belong together.
This rule is nonsense! Among the best meals I had in Italy were two cheese-focused dishes that involved seafood: the cheesiest gratinéed mussels in the world, and a cold seafood salad of calamari, mussels, clams, and whitefish, served with a huge ball of fresh burrata.
5. Eating cheese as dessert is endlessly chic.
I'll never quite understand why we Americans don't practice this ritual more often. For tips on how to serve cheese for dessert, follow this link or this one.
Oh, the memories. Almost as sweet as the lessons learned.
Nora Singley used to be a cheesemonger and the Director of Education at Murray's Cheese Shop. Until recently she was a TV Chef on The Martha Stewart Show. She is currently a freelance food stylist and private chef in New York City.
Related: On Getting Away: Cheesemonger Travels in France
(Images: Nora Singley)