A Trip to Foodie Hogwarts
The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone is sometimes called “Foodie Hogwarts.” Rising above the undulating vineyards of Napa Valley, its dusky stone façade looks castle-like, with an enormous arched doorway that ushers aspiring chefs into what was once a Franciscan winery. When I was invited to spend a long weekend there learning about some Italian specialty foods, I dropped everything and climbed onto a plane.
When I landed, I met 8 chefs from around the country, and together we spent a packed 48 hours tasting cured meats and cheeses. The chefs had two days to invent new dishes in the CIA kitchen, while I roamed the sunlit halls, snapped photos, and grilled importer Francesco Lupo about the two cheeses he brought with him in his suitcase, Grana Padano and Montasio.
Don’t worry. I’ll tell you about the cheeses soon enough. (I flew home with hunks the size of meteors.) First, I want to give you a few glimpses of Napa and my fabulous co-travelers, not to mention our stellar host, Chef Almir Da Fonseca.
Spending time in the CIA kitchen was a reminder of why I do what I do. Blogging about cheese lets me peer into the creative lives of other strangers who love food…
Like Stephanie Boswell, Executive Pastry Chef of The Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills. She also manages the cheese program. We became friends over Montasio and a shared love of washed rinds.
Then there was Michael Israel, who left a job at Huckleberry in L.A. to become Senior Manager of Culinary Development at The Cheesecake Factory. We spent a good forty minutes over lunch one day discussing the consistency of a perfect cheesecake. Not surprisingly, he was incredibly articulate.
Not to mention Luis DaCosta, Chef/General Manager of Harvard Dining, who regaled us all with his story of preparing thousands of meals for 4 weeks during a kitchen strike. (Even Harvard professors jumped into help.) At the CIA, he was obsessed with trying out different parts of Prosciutto di Parma in the recipes he created. Here’s something I learned about Prosciutto di Parma: the bottom of the leg is saltiest, best for soup; the top of the leg is sweetest, best for eating on cheese boards.
And of course, we met a few CIA students. The current class hailed from 19 countries. And, like all of us, their passion for food was evident in every movement, from preparing food at the stoves around us to the expressions on their faces when they tasted Chef Almir Da Fonseca’s savory Montasio Donuts.
Hint: the donuts were made from brioche dough, fried, then dipped into a glaze made with honey and freshly grated black truffle. Monumental. This was definitely one of my favorite ways to enjoy Montasio, a gorgeous cheese I’ll tell you all about in an upcoming post.
Full disclosure: My cheese weekend at the CIA was sponsored by Legends From Europe, a consortium devoted to educating food lovers about Prosciutto di Parma, Prosciutto di San Daniele, Grana Padano, and Montasio cheese.