Cheesing with Uncle Paolo

Stael de Cavra cut

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!

The Cheese Cart of Verona (Uncle Paolo is far left)

The Cheese Cart of Verona (Uncle Paolo is far left)

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.

Cheesemonger of the CartIn the cheese cart

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.

Stinky and pink, but utterly mysterious

Stinky and pink, but utterly mysterious.

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.


Uncle Paolo's Cheese Plate with Panerone and Jam

Uncle Paolo’s Cheese Plate with Panerone and Jam

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.

Me, Cousin Leo, and Uncle Paolo

Me, Cousin Leo, and Uncle Paolo


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7 Responses to “Cheesing with Uncle Paolo”
  1. Sonja Darlington says:

    Stael de Cavra sounds like the name of an elderly, female writer. This pinkish dish would be just right for her: The top photo is a most lovely rendition of what she might serve to a young, bright, vivacious, American cheese monger like Madame Fromage. Uncle Paolo and Leo appear to be the perfect co-hosts, next to Stael de Cavra. And, of course, the cheese cart, why can’t there be one of those in every city?!

  2. kristen says:

    PINK CHEESE?! J’adore!

  3. Aunt Tookie says:

    Sweet story Tenaya!

  4. Aunt Dawnie says:

    Very charming, experiencing Italy over your shoulder…

  5. Sam Daleo says:

    Truly enjoyable! The beautifully written story, that is. I’m a cheese lover myself, the gooier, the stinkier, the better, and I’m jealous of your experience.

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