Authentic Parmigiano Reggiano at bargain prices

Giovanni Adamo is cheese manager at La Bottega in Ottawa.

The Special of the Week flyer from La Bottega Fine Food Shop was sent to me by a faithful reader too late for me personally to make the drive to Ottawa by Sunday but perhaps others can take advantage of what is being billed as a Parmigiano Reggiano “super special.” Indeed, that it is.

Until Sunday, Bottega is offering real-deal Parmigiano from Reggiano at $2.20 per 100 grams or $21.99 a kilogram. That’s about half-price of what Parmigiano Reggiano generally sells for in Ontario.

The only retailer that comes close to the Bottega price, as far as I know, is our neighbourhood Costco, bless its multinational soul, which has Parmigiano priced at $25.39 a kilo. Costco, like Bottega, offers it in one-kilo pieces. Costco’s supplier is Ambrosi while Bottega’s is made by Agriform. Both are biggies in Reggiano cheese production in Italy.

Pat Nicastro, proprietor of Bottega, says the Parmigiano Reggiano on sale is “a fantastic Scelto-quality Reggiano dated December 2007, aged 24 months.” (Scelto means specially selected in Italian.) Bottega orders the cheese by the pallet from its supplier where its ranks as the biggest customer. “We are both driving important year-end sales. We are passing on the savings to our customers.”

La Bottega is located in Ottawa’s Byward Market. It carries 200 types of cheese from around the world—plus every Italian delicacy imaginable.

Cheese that is certified as Parmigiano Reggiano is strictly linked to a specific geographical area in Italy. Milk production and its process into cheese takes place in the provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Bologna (on the left side of Reno river) and Mantua (on the right side of Po River). Click here for information about the consortium that regulates Parmigiano Reggiano.

For a gorgeous video on how the King of Italian Cheese is made—and has been made for 800+ years—click here.

Pecorino Romano saves lives

Traditionally, the salted rind of Pecorino Romano is painted black.

OK, I’m stretching journalistic licence somewhat with that headline but the fact of the matter is that a joint Italian-American study reveals even small amounts of Pecorino Romano protect against arteriosclerosis and contain anti-inflammatory and cancer-fighting properties.

The Universities of Sassari and Cagliari (Sardinia, Italy) in conjunction with a team of doctors from the United States, announced this week the results of a six-year long research study confirming that Pecorino or sheep’s-milk cheese contains high amounts of CLA (Conjugated Linoleic Acid), an Omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acid naturally found in certain food groups and which shows bioactive properties for humans.

The study, conducted in Sardinia from 2003 to 2009 confirms the health benefits of CLA, including “reducing fat, suppressing diabetes, preserving muscle tissue and inhibiting tumor growths on the skin, mammary glands and stomach.”

Wow! Almost makes me rush out and buy the stuff.

CLA is found primarily in milk and dairy products and in the meat of ruminants: sheep, goats, lamb, cattle. Results are highest when ruminants are fed on fresh grass.

The study found that the “regular, ongoing consumption of Pecorino cheese, as part of a balanced and calorically correct diet, contributes a set of bioactive elements capable of significantly reducing the risk factors associated with eating habits in Western countries. Such as cardiovascular diseases, the enhancement of the immune defenses, the proven anti-inflammatory and cancer-fighting properties.”

Why Pecorino? Grass-fed sheep produce a high level of CLA. It is the grazing grass that gives the product its unique nutritional and therapeutic properties. In Sardinia, a region where more than 50% of the farmland is used as pastures, the sheep are fed more than 80% of daily intake with fresh grass, and the livestock techniques used guarantee respect of the animals and their well-being.

“High amounts of combined linoleic acid are a natural byproduct, and not produced through sophisticated, artificial processes or through genetic modifications. The more the sheep feed on grass pasture, the greater the concentration of unsaturated fatty acids in the Omega-3 family and CLA in products made from their milk. Obviously these benefits are added to the other common benefits of milk, such as the presence of calcium and branched amino acids that are especially important in combating osteopenia or osteoporosis in post-menopausal women and in combating overweight and obesity. Pecorino Romano cheese can be eaten even by those who are lactose intolerant. In addition, to protecting the coronary arteries and protecting against arteriosclerosis, CLA has important immunostimulant, anti-tumor, antioxidant and anti-diabetic properties.”

OK, that does it! Out the door I go, but as my nearest cheesemonger is more than an hour away, I end up at a neighbourhood supermarket where I find Romano cheese, without Pecorino cited, under the Tre Stelle brand, part of the Arla Foods conglomerate. The label says the cheese is made in Italy and the ingredients listed are sheep’s-milk cheese—pecorino, in Italian, from the word for sheep, pecora—and bacterial culture, salt and rennet. It costs $3.92 per 100 grams.

I give it 90 minutes to come up to temperature and then pop a chunk into my waiting mouth. Not bad, but a tad salty, which is why Pecorino Romano is primarily used for grating. It’s sort of like a Parmigiano-Reggiano but in a sheep’s-milk kind of way: sharp and earthy, yellowish white. With a Niagara merlot at hand, several additional pieces find their way into my mouth. Doesn’t quite melt on the tongue like the best Reggiano does, but I’m certain it will go well—for about two-thirds the price—with the tomato sauce I’ll make for pasta tonight.

Cheese the new gold?

Is this the new white gold?

Dairy has become more expensive than some top cuts of meat in Canada, and the cost is hitting restaurants and food processors the hardest, says the head of the food services industry, according to a news report by CBC News this week.

“A kilogram of cheese is more expensive than a kilogram of steak. A litre of milk is the same price as a litre of orange juice from Florida,” said Garth Whyte, president and CEO of the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association.

“They now call cheese white gold,” he said. “It’s very, very expensive. I saw it today. A 500 gram brick at an [Ottawa] grocery store was on sale — $2 off. It was $6 for 500 grams, so it was $12 a kilogram. A top sirloin steak was on sale for $9 a kilogram,” said Whyte in an interview with CBC News Monday.

The association has called for a 16.5 per cent reduction in the price of industrial milk at a meeting Monday with the Canadian Dairy Commission in Ottawa.

The report got me thinking. (I hear you saying, Uh, oh!) Mr. Whyte deals with industrial milk so he’s talking mass-produced cheese, industrial rather than artisinal. The question for me is just what have I been paying recently for really good cheese?

Bonnie & Floyd, a wonderful sheep’s milk cheese, was $70 a kilogram at Fifth Town Artisan Cheese last week. My recollection is I paid the same $70 a kilo at Thin Blue Line Cheese Boutique for superb Tomme de Gaston about a month ago. At Cheese Boutique, Migneron de Charlevoix is $64.50 a kilo this week while Benedictine Blue goes for $49.90 a kilo. The six-year-old cheddar from Black River Cheese in my fridge cost $46.23 a kilo.

Clearly, Mr. Whyte would have a heart attack if he knew the price of artisinal cheese. No question, the best cheese is expensive . . . but it’s sooooooooooooo good!

And quite a bargain when compared to actual gold which today is trading at $42,751.23 a kilo.

Welcome, Cheese Lovers!

Cheesemaker for a day at Fifth Town Artisan Cheese in Prince Edward County.

A taste of Oka almost 50 years ago sparked in me a lifelong love for cheese. That love has ripened into full-blown passion as more and more mouth-watering cheeses are being churned out by artisan, farmstead and specialty cheesemakers across Canada. I’d like to share that passion by making an informative and entertaining meeting place for all who love cheese.

Expect this site to grow in scope as I’m not beholden to any one cheesemaker or one style of cheese. Heck, there are even excellent mass-produced cheeses out there! Although my initial focus will be on my home province, Ontario, glorious Quebec and other regions of Canada will receive their due.

Visit often as I aim to add new content regularly. And please do leave a comment as feedback is always welcome.

—Georgs Kolesnikovs