Parmesan cheese has long been one of the most popular cheeses to grace Australian households. Childhood memories of the (horrid) green cylindrical packet that we once doused our spaghetti in, has evolved as rapidly as the choice and availability of cheese in Australia has grown.Parmigiano Reggiano is revitalising the perception of parmesan with a worldwide campaign to heighten awareness about the cheese. The goal is to showcase the different parmesans available, what food or wine they are best suited to, and how to use Parmigiano Reggiano in new and innovative ways when cooking.We were recently lucky enough to be treated to a three course meal showcasing the use of parmesan in many delicious ways with a specially crafted menu by renowned three hatted chef Mark Best at his Surry Hills restaurant Marque. Each course used a differently aged parmesan ranging from 18 months to 36 months, to display the various depths of flavour and educate us on how each could be used in cooking.Upon arrival hors d’oeuvres were served, accompanied by refreshing and light champagne from Lombardy, Italy chosen by sommelier Simon Curkovic. Using the Parmigiano Reggiano DOP 18 months, we were presented with a Parmesan & Tomato Marshmallow and Parmesan Custard, Gougére & Eggplant.
The marshmallow was incredibly fluffy and soft, best described as putting a snowflake in your mouth! It literally melted on the tongue, doused in what one would assume was coconut but instead was delicately grated 18 month Parmigiano Reggiano. This savoury marshmallow was ever-so moreish and with such lightness I could have easily consumed a whole plate!The other hors d’oeuvres could be likened to a savoury profiterole with a crisp thin pastry encasing a subtle parmesan custard. The outside was dipped in dark black eggplant liquid, consisting purely of reduced eggplant with a smokey edge.As we sat down for the meal, the origins of Parmigiano Reggiano, how it is created and aged were all explained to us.
The process is extensive, with over 16 litres of milk required to make a mere 1-kilogram of Parmigiano Reggiano. This means that one wheel of parmesan needs a mammoth 550L of milk. What distinguishes Parmigiano Reggiano against other generically and mass produced Parmesan cheese is its PDO product status- Protected Designation of Origin. This dictates strict guidelines derived by EU rules, around production to ensure the highest quality standards of cheese production.
Following this, we were treated to two dishes using the 24-month aged Parmigiano Reggiano. Before enjoying the meals, we sampled the cheese by itself, comparing it to the 18-month variety with notable differences. The Parmesan Gnocchi with Pumpkin Consommé & Smoked Eel, was by far the standout dish. It included 5 small pieces of gnocchi, in a sweet pumpkin consommé on a bed of thinly sliced smoked eel. The gnocchi was unlike any I’ve had before, the perfect texture of light and airy, not at all heavy or dense and perfectly complemented by the other sweet and smoky elements of the dish.The second course included a ‘Cacio e Pepe’ Risotto, which was served by our chef Mark Best straight out of the parmesan wheel and into our bowls, perfectly finished with a parmesan crisp on top.
‘Cacio e Pepe’ translates to ‘cheese and pepper’, with this style of serving becoming increasingly popular in many Italian cheese and cured meat restaurants such as Buffalo Dining Club in Darlinghurst and Chester White in Potts Point. Both use the same technique of serving straight out of the parmesan wheel when placing spaghetti onto diner’s plates, with it absorbing further flavour and emitting a mouth-watering aroma.
In our risotto, the cheese-y goodness oozed through and unlike typical risottos, the rice was served more al dente in a particularly Italian style, as opposed to the standard creamy and soft consistency one usually expects. This enhanced the texture, creating a delectable dish with the sharpness and slight bite of the 24-month aged cheese.As the risotto was served, we learnt that each Parmigiano Reggiano wheel is stamped with a mark of origin detailing an identification of the cheese house, the month and year of production. Furthermore, the product is completely ‘zero waste’ as the entire wheel, down to the very last rind is edible! The risotto was served with an amazingly delicious light and refreshing salad of New Season Asparagus with Peas, Young Coconut & Caper Water, which helped distract from the purely cheese offerings.The final course was created using the 36-month aged Parmigiano Reggiano. This ‘old cheese’ is drier and crumblier, and by far the strongest and most intense. It was matched with the most amazing Moscato wine, the Vietti Moscato d’Asti from Piedmont, Italy. It was a sparkling and sweet wine however completely balance and light to perfection. This dessert course was an adaptation of the classic Australian ice-cream with a Parmesan Ice Cream and Parsnip Cornetto. The cone was created using the outer skin of a dehydrated parsnip, whilst the ice-cream was particularly savoury and strongly distinguished by the sharp 36 month cheese. It was definitely an interesting dish that challenged the senses, with no element of sweetness as is usually expected from desserts.An interesting thing to note about Parmigiano Reggiano is its strong nutritional qualities with high calcium, phosphorous and vitamin content deriving from its long natural ageing process and high milk content. A mere 20g of the cheese contains a high 6.6g of protein, no carbohydrates and 5.68g of good fat. We finished off the diner chatting to Mark Best, hearing first hand some stories from his kitchen and travels abroad! Thank you to Parmigiano Reggiano for a lovely night.
I Ate My Way Through dined as guests of Parmigiano Reggiano