On Monday I was in the city market in Bologna. With two hours to kill and several thousand calories to invest I wanted cheese. I wanted the absolute best gorgonzola I could find, dolce and otherwise. I wanted to find a shop that would cut a fresh wheel of reggiano for me, one that was still creamy and slightly moist in the middle and let me taste it. I also wanted to find cheese that I had never heard of that I could try.
In short I wanted to eat my way through a cheese shop in one of Italy's greatest markets.
And I did.
I even brought some home.
I have no idea of the name of it nor even if it had a name. But most of the stores in the central market area (just behind the square) feature cheese and other goods, such as meats or a few groceries.
This sold only cheese. One of only several stores that I saw that did this. I picked it because on shelving to the right of the front door there were at least 12 whole wheels of reggiano. Behind the counter there was only cheese and the white aproned man who tended the counter really seemed to handle the cheese caringly, there was almost an art in the way he lopped off chunks or sliced through melon sized rounds. On the top of the counter was fresh, creamy, soft gorgonzola dolce with what was really a small molten puddle of it resting at its base. Twelve Euros a kilo.
I went into the store and asked if he spoke English. No. I tried to gesture what I wanted to do and he looked at me quizzically. About this time a man, also wearing a white apron, walked by the store and the counterman rushed out, stopped him and brought him back into the store. He spoke English. Very well, actually.
I told him that I wanted to buy several kilos of reggiano and bring it back to America on the plane that day. But I wanted reggiano that was cut fresh from a whole wheel, one that might be somewhat creamy and slightly moist in the center. Could he do it?
He went into a walk in box and brought out a whole uncut wheel. He cut into it and sliced a six inch high wedge that was six inches across at the rind. With the tip of his knife he sliced off a small piece and handed it to me to pull it off of the edge of the knife. Oh my God! Almost creamy in my mouth, rich slightly cool, slightly moist, but the creaminess. Dense and firm like here of course but not quite as sharp. I had never had reggiano like this in America. Reggiano purchased here has a slight bite while with this it was somewhat muted. Just a smooth, almost creamy flavor that lingered. I took a second sliver and then a third. Meanwhile he wrapped the cheese for me to carry back in white butcher paper and tied a string around it. He did not have cry o vac.
The man in the white apron (who turned out to be a nearby butcher) started to leave but I stopped him. I told him that I would like to pay the man behind the counter to have a taste of EVERY CHEESE THAT HE HAD IN HIS STORE. He looked at me like I was insane. I repeated my request and told him that I would give him ten, then twenty Euros for this. When the counter man heard the number he turned and started placing different rounds and slabs of cheese on the counter top for me to try.
I should have taken notes but I didn't. But after over twenty different cheeses it really didn't matter. There were three conclusions that were immediately apparent:
1. The cheese that I liked the most I had never heard of nor, to the best of my knowledge, could it be had in America: gorgonzola naturale in malga. I was told this was rare even for Italy. Basically it was a very deeply, intensely flavored bleu cheese with a dense texture but just incredible, long lasting flavor. The taste went on and on. I tasted it three times over a half hour, each time wanting some chianti to wash it down with (which I did not have).
2. The second cheese that I liked the most was the basic gorgonzola dolce which was on the counter top. I make a gorgonzola dolce risotto that I have written about on this board but the cheese that I use (purchased here) just has nothing in common with fresh dolce near the source. The soft truly buttery creaminess, almost a cool, molten cheese with an intense bleu flavor yet smooth and even with a very soft bite. I've never had dolce like this. Incredible. I took a quarter kilo which I had driving to Ravenna later.
3. The reggiano parmesan. I brought this back and, yes, it did suffer some. Still creamy in the mouth, but over the 24 hours that I returned to D. C. it dried a bit. Still better than a freshly cut wheel here but not quite as good as in Bologna when cut fresh.
Two days later I flew from Washington to Oklahoma City and brought dolce, reggiano and butter with me in a plastic container which I had filled with "blue ice" cubes. The cheese was almost encapsulated in the bleu ice but, remarkably, when I opened the container ten hours after packing it (which I had shipped inside of a suit case that I checked) the blue ice was still solid! And the cheese was perfect, just as if it had never left my refrigerator.
I go back to Italy in six weeks or so on business. I am going to bring the plastic rubbermaid container with me. Filled with blue ice which I will have my hotel refrigerate. I am going back to Bologna and buy more cheese. Some dolce and naturale in malga. Then I am driving to the airport and coming home after a connection in Paris. Fourteen hours after I will have packed the cheese in the ice filled container I am going to open it.
Then I am going to make risotto. And drink chianti with the naturale in malga.