Tuesday is a special day in Paderno del Grappa. Not only is it bowtie day (see my Instagram), it’s cheese day! One of my favorite things about Italy is the cheese. So many types, from the hard, sharp parmesan to the soft, spreadable stracchino and everything in between. And all of these are available at Matteo’s cheese truck, which is set up for one precious hour each Tuesday in Paderno.
I mentioned Matteo in this post a while back, but let me give you a little more background. (Disclaimer that this is mostly hearsay and conjecture.) Matteo’s father operated the local cheese truck years back and I assume Matteo grew up helping him out. After completing high school, Matteo studied Economics at university. From what I understand, he has a master’s degree in the subject! I have even heard him described as “the smartest guy I’ve ever met.” After university, he worked in a bank, but apparently the banker’s life didn’t agree with him, because after a few years, he returned home to take over his father’s cheese business.
Now Matteo is married with three kids, and every week, he moves from village to village with his cheese truck, where “little Italian grandmas” wait for him. Occasionally, he even does cheese tastings, with samples of different styles accompanied by, of course, a local wine. After months of anticipation, my MBA class was able to set up one such tasting and it is a highlight of my time in Paderno.
Ricotta: We started the night with fresh ricotta, which I learned is made from the leftovers of making other cheeses! (Side note: “mani di ricotta” – literally “hands of ricotta” – is the Italian equivalent of “butterfingers”.) It was so fluffy and delicious. Some of our small pack asked for seconds… then thirds… then fourths. I had to remind them that there were other cheeses waiting.
Cremoso: Next up was cremoso, which, as you can imagine, was very creamy. It’s made of cows milk and goes well with crackers and the local wine Matteo took out at this point.
Morlacco: Third on the list – but number one in my heart – was morlacco. This semi-soft, salty cheese is only produced in the Monte Grappa region. It’s a very traditional cheese, with quite a production process. Apparently, evening milk is skimmed (in a special room, which allows fresh night air to pass), then mixed with whole milk in the morning. Then it’s heated, left to rest, cut, separated, left to purge (not sure what this means), and proceeds to form. The end result of all this effort is a salty, raw-tasting masterpiece. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. (For a better explaition of the process, you can go here:
Bastardo: Bastardo is another cheese typical of the Monte Grappa region. It’s similar to morlacco, but is produced with both cow’s and goat’s milk, hence the name. By this point, we were on at least our third bottle of wine and I started wondering how many cheeses we would get to taste.
Montasio: Our cheese journey continued with montasio, produced in the Friuli region, with origins that date back to the 1200s. This was a new one for me, and has since become one of my favorites. Montasio can be enjoyed fresh, semi-mature, or old. Fresh montasio, aged between 60 and 120 days is soft and smooth, with a mild creamy flavor. Yum! Finished the fourth bottle of wine around this time.
Vezzena: I honestly don’t remember this cheese very well (could be thanks to that fourth bottle of wine), but my research tells me it is medium-fat, buttery smooth, and herb-y. Sounds like I need to try it again!
Pecorino: I had used pecorino as a topping cheese a number of times before that night, but it was only then that I learned pecora means sheep, so pecorino is sheep cheese! It’s a harder cheese and ideal for grating, much like parmesan. Sharp and salty. And onto the fifth bottle of wine!
Caprino: Last, but certainly not least, was caprino. Capra = goat, so caprino = goat cheese (this one I did know). It was an aged caprino, so, much like the pecorino, it was hard, sharp, and salty. Matteo described it as “wild”. It had such an interesting feeling on the tongue, like dozens of tiny needles poking you, but somehow in a pleasant way.
All said and done, we tasted eight different cheeses and finished six bottles of wine! It was such a fun, informative, and tasty experience. I’m ready for round two!