Italian Lessons (With Cheese)
Going forward, there’s a new kind of Sunday in the works. Most Sundays, we sit around in our pajamas, Monsieur Fromage and I, and we read the paper and then lose ourselves in our own projects (for me, it’s been a book; for him, it’s been grad school). But this February we made a pact to work less and learn something new together. Because we’re going to Verona in May — our first vacay, just the two of us, in so long — we decided to spring for Italian lessons on Sundays.
We have a tutor (thanks to Craig’s List), she comes to the house. We’ve baited her with cheese.
During our first lesson with Victoria, we practiced greetings and good-byes, and now Monsieur and I wander around the house bellowing Buona Giornata to one another. We say bellissimo as we carve away at Sunday’s leftover cheeses, a pair of Italian hunks — one from the north, one from the south — that we set out for Victoria, so she could learn something about cheese styles in exchange for teaching us to roll our rrrr’s.
I secretly believe that eating cheese will help us retain our new vocabulary — not that cheese will make us smarter, but I know I won’t look at Caciocavallo or Salva again without thinking of the Italian alphabet, which we learned on an overcast Sunday in February at our kitchen table.
“Thready” is the word that comes to mind when I roll a bite of Caciocavallo around on my tongue. It comes loose, like tightly spun yarn, like the pulled curds of a great mozzarella, but the flavor is much punchier, not mild at all. From southern Italy, this cow’s milk cheese calls to mind Provolone, but it’s more delicate, a smooth talker. Caciocavallo is distinguished by its gourd shape, which is then sliced up like a melon. The name means “cheese on horseback,” which refers to the traditional method of transporting Caciocavallo. Tied to either ends of a rope, these cheeses were slung over saddles, then brought to market.
Pair with a hunk of sweet Italian sausage, like sopresatta, and a glass of Primitivo.
Something about the taste of Salva makes me think of sourdough bread. It’s crumbly and tangy with a sour finish that is vaguely yeasty. Made in Lombardy, from raw cow’s milk, this is just the sort of rustic slab that tastes good with a dish of olives and some thinly sliced prosciutto or speck. It doesn’t need fancy action on the side, though I can imagine enjoying it in the summer with a drizzle of honey and a ripe plum, just as one might enjoy a hunk of Caerphilly.
A wheat beer alongside Salva would be divine.
Note: I picked up these cheeses at Di Bruno Bros. on Chestnut Street in Philadelphia. Look for Caciocavallo at Italian specialty stores. Salva may be harder to find, but ask around. And don’t be afraid of Salva’s rind, which looks menacing but tastes pleasantly mushroomy.