Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Cheese Barn

My sister Allison has been studying abroad in Orvieto, Italy, since January through her architecture program at K-State. I've been hasseling her for (literally) months to write a blog about this cooking class she took (apparently it was required, tough life). Finally she comes through, however sans photos. Thus I resorted to stealing them from her blog, her friends blogs and facebook. Sorry friends of Al, she left me no choice. Sidenote: Do yourselves a favor and check this blog out. Fantastic photos. At any rate, here is her first in a series of blogs.
As a study abroad student in Orvieto, Italy, I am learning more about culture and people than I ever could have at university in Manhattan, Kan. As food is such a monumental part of every culture, it was imperative that my classmates and I participate in a day of cooking lessons with a real, live Italian chef. Chef Lorenzo of the Zeppelin in Orvieto is an Italian who studied in the U.S. and seems to know everyone connected with food in Umbria. As part of our cooking class, we toured a local cheese factory and an olive oil mill. Italians love to tell stories, and the more ridiculous the better. Perhaps it is their connection with Greek and Roman mythology, or maybe it’s because of the abundance of absurd leaders, egotistical artists and larger than life characters that bring about these stories and legends. Whatever the cause, Italians and their stories have also become a part of their food. Some of which we heard while touring what my mother describes as “the cheese barn.”
After looking around the factory at all the machinery necessary to the cheese making process, our guides took us into the aging rooms. They have three different storage rooms where cheese is aged at the factory. In the first room there were racks of cheese wheels and a faint musty smell in the air. In the second room the cheese was starting to get a little moldy and take on a brighter color. In the third room the smell intensified and all the wheels of cheese were covered in mold. The differences between the cheeses that they make at this factory come from how the cheese is aged. The longer it is aged the stronger the flavor is. Other differences come from the way the cheese is aged. One kind of cheese was soaked in red wine before being aged. Another variety was covered in hay to add a more rustic flavor. One of the more unusual varieties was aged in a cave. We were given samples of almost every kind of cheese the factory produces. We were even given a sample of the most expensive cheese made in Italy, which costs 60 euros for a kilo.
Chef Lorenzo told us the story behind this cheese. Apparently when Julius Caesar was fighting the Gauls in northern Europe, the Romans on the Italian peninsula were fighting off attacks from the Turks. In order to save their beloved cheese from the merciless pirates, they buried the cheese underground. When the Turks had been run out of Roman territory, the Romans dug up their cheese and were surprised by how delicious the cheese had become. To this day, the Italians age cheese in holes in the ground. Although it may sound absurd, I can’t blame them because it was delicious.
Note in the comments how much you hate or love Al for spending four months in Italy.


Maria said...

I'm incredibly jealous of Al for spending four months in Italy! What a hard life, huh? I want to do undergrad over again and study abroad every year.

Jess said...

heaven. so much cheese!