Cheesing with Uncle Paolo
Until I went to Italy this May, I never knew my Uncle Paolo. I’d seen him in pictures with my Aunt Lynette, an Ohio girl who studied abroad in college and fell in love with a hunk from Verona. In pictures, Uncle Paolo looked like a gladiator — he had bronze skin and broad shoulders, and to my child eyes he appeared menacing. As I prepared to meet him with my adult eyes, I have to admit I felt a little…oh, shall we say cautious?
Luckily, Uncle Paolo and I discovered a special bond: a love of cheese.
In fact, on the morning of my Aunt Lynette’s funeral, Uncle Paolo and I went shopping for cheese. “We must go meet the cheese cart,” Uncle Paolo told me that morning. I had heard that there was a mobile dairy service in Verona that ventured into the mountains to retrieve cheeses and sell them around the city, food-truck-style. Brilliant! But I had no idea that the cheese cart rolled right up to the church across from Uncle Paolo’s house!
I dashed out the door after Uncle Paolo, who moved in long jackrabbit strides, and in two minutes we were standing in line with several black-shoed grannies. The cheeses displayed in the cart blew my mind. Alongside familiar wheels of Parmigiano, there were rustic square cheeses with hierolglyph-like markings and soft, white basket cheeses draining on trays.
Together with Uncle Paolo, I tried two cheeses that were unlike any other I’ve tasted:
Stael de Cavra
The first was a pale pink goat cheese (shown up top) that was the color of a rose bud all throughout its paste — even Paolo was perplexed by this. “Let’s gookle it,” Paolo said in his thick accent, but no amount of Googling revealed any hint of a cheese called Stael de Cavra.
It was our kind of cheese, though. Stinky as hell and very runny. My first taste of a raw-milk washed goat will never be forgotten, least of all because it was rose pink.
Uncle Paolo picked up this funky hunk from the grocery one day, and he served it on a cheese plate after lunch. It tasted like bitter peanutbutter — gooey, husky, with a powerfully bitter finish. He and my cousin Leo ate it with fork and knife, slinging it back with vigor.
I downed it with less gusto and reached for Gorgonzola Dolce when the plate came around a second time. Still, I was curious: what made Panerone so bitter? A little research revealed that this raw cow’s milk cheese comes from the region of Lodi, but I could find little else.
And so I left Verona, with a new sense of curiosity — not about my Uncle Paolo but about his ability to scare up inscrutable cheeses. I hope we have the chance to share more cheese plates in the future.