Grating Cheeses: Grate Expectations

A grating cheese isn’t one that annoys you but rather an aged, hard cheese that can be finely shredded. The quintessential grating cheese is Parmigiano-Reggiano, but there are other grate cheeses, including Grana Padano, Parmigiano’s less pricy cousin, other aged cow’s milk cheeses, such as Gouda, sheep’s milk cheeses such as Pecorino Romano, even goat cheeses like Coach Farm’s grating stick.

Like many chefs, Ethan Stowell, a Seattle restaurateur (Anchovies & Olives, How to Cook a Wolf, Tavolata), uses grating cheeses on more than just pasta and risotto. For example, Parmigiano-Reggiano on a soft-boiled egg with shaved porcini mushrooms and drizzled olive oil. (Parmigiano and Grana Padano are particularly good in eggy dishes, such as the savory custard I made. Egg dishes are wine finicky but sparkling wines usually win the day.)

On salads, Stowell sprinkles Castelmagno, the piedmont cheese made from cow’s milk and small amounts of milk from sheep and goats. “Mostly, we use grating cheeses as flavoring accents for appetizers”, Stowell says.

Classic grating cheeses are friable. That is, they are easily crumbled or pulverized with a crystalline quality you can feel as you chew. This allows them to liquefy in your mouth and easily meld into a sauce. Not all hard cheeses have this characteristic. Aged Cheddar, for example, may be grated, but it can get lumpy or gummy.

Parmesan, unlike Parmigiano-Reggiano, is not a protected name. So, there are Parmesans made elsewhere, notably the United States and Argentina. Though buttery and nutty, Black Wax Parmesan by Argentine producer Zerto is softer and less crystalline than Parmigiano-Reggiano with only echoes of the real thing. Wisconsin-made Belgioso Parmesan is similar in price (about $12 a pound) but less impressive with a taste and texture more like provolone. Though it doesn’t bill itself as Parmesan, Vella Dry Jack, a two-year old raw cow’s milk cheese from Sonoma, is as close to Parmigiano as you can get outside Italy.

If you want to save a few dollars but get so close to Parmigiano-Reggiano (which ranges from $14 to $24 a pound) that most people won’t notice, go for Grana Padana. Indeed, I’ve had Grana Padanos that were equal to or better than some Parmigianos.

You can also try aged (nine months or more) Asiago, the cow’s milk cheese from Veneto and Friuli. It was delicious with a salad of Brussels sprouts, pancetta and hard-boiled eggs, a trio that would have done in most wines, except a Mosel Kabinett Riesling with which it was matched.

Sharp and sheepy, Pecorino Romano (or just Romano) is a more commonly grated into rustic, southern Italian dishes. It is also salty, sometimes too salty. But not all Pecorino Romanos are alike. Fulvi is less salty and better balanced than most Pecorino Romanos with a milder, creamier profile. Pecorino Genuino, a term that refers to cheese from the Lazio region that includes Rome, was earthier than the Fulvi, but saltier. Auricchio Romano is made in Wisconsin by the same company the produces Belgioso and owns the Locatelli brand, the most widely known Romano (and too salty for my taste). It’s a better imitation of the real thing than the Belgioso Parmesan but it costs the same or a bit more than Fulvi (roughly $12 a pound).

Pecorino Romano gives a nice zing to hearty vegetables like broccoli or broccoli raab and assertive salad greens such as arugula, escarole and endive. But Italy doesn’t have a monopoly on sheep’s milk grating cheeses. At Foreign Cinema restaurant in San Francisco, co-owner and chef Gayle Pirie grates two-year old Manchego on Caesar salad, accented with lime and avocado.

As far as other grating cheeses, I like to give traditional Italian dishes like risotto a little twist with aged Goudas. They also stand up to exotic preparations, such as a Moroccan-style couscous stuffing for roasted chicken, which partnered nicely with a Brouilly Beaujolais. Pirie also uses an American two-year old goat Gouda on carpaccio with watercress and horseradish sauce.

Speaking of goat cheese, I love Coach Farm’s grating stick, fun to put on, well, just about anything (and drink with Sauvignon Blanc, of course). When it comes to Coach Farm’s and the other cheeses I’ve mentioned, expect grateness.

 

 

 

 

 

Here are a few recipes in which you can use grating cheeses.

TURNIP POTATO AND PARSNIP GRATIN WITH LEEKS (from “Eat Fresh, Stay Healthy,” Macmillan).

Grating cheeses are often used in gratins, most often in a white (mornay) sauce or—as in the recipe that follows—in the topping, usually combined with bread crumbs.

  • Butter flavored spray
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1/2 cup hot fat-free, low-sodium chicken stock
  • 1 1/2 cups hot low or nonfat milk
  • Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg, or to taste
  • 1 pound turnips, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1/2 pound potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1/2 pound parsnips, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 2 medium leeks, white only, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley

1)Preheat oven to 350. Spray a gratin dish with butter-flavor spray and set aside.

2)Put the butter in a heavy bottom saucepan over medium heat. When the foam subsides, add the flour and whisk a few minutes. Add stock and stir vigorously until well incorporated. Add milk and whisk until mixture returns to a boil. Simmer a few minutes. It should have the consistency of a thin white sauce. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.

3)Arrange half the turnips on the bottom of the gratin dish. Sprinkle with 1/3 of the leeks. Add parsnip slices. Then 1/3 more leeks. Then potatoes and remaining leeks. Seasoning each layer with salt and pepper.

4)Pour sauce over, cover and bake 30 minutes. Mix cheese, bread crumbs and parsley. Sprinkle on top and bake 30 minutes more uncovered. Serves 8.

PASTA WITH BROCCOLI RAAB AND FETA CHEESE (updated from “Low-Fat Cooking to Beat the Clock,” Chronicle)

  • 1 tablespoon kosher or sea salt plus additional for seasoning
  • 1 bunch broccoli raab or kale (about 1 pound)
  • 12 ounces dried capellini (angel hair) pasta
  • 1 cup fat-free, reduced-sodium chicken stock
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 3/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 2 1/2 ounces feta cheese, preferably sheep’s milk (about 3/4 cup)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Grated pecorino Romano cheese to pass at the table

1)Put 4 quarts water and 1 tablespoon salt in a large pot. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat.

2)Meanwhile, cut off the bottom 1/2 inch from the bottom of the bunch of broccoli raab and remove any withered or yellowed leaves. Then lay the bunch on its side on a cutting board. Cut the bunch crosswise beginning at the top. Cut the leafy tops into ribbons about 3/4-inch-wide. The stem portions no more than 3/8-inch wide.

3)When the water boils add the broccoli raab. Stir, cover and cook for 3 minutes. Break capellini in half. Add the pasta to the pot. Stir, cover, and return to a boil. Stir again, partially cover, and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring at least one more time, until the pasta is done to your taste.

4)Meanwhile, put the chicken stock in a 12-inch sauté pan or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Peel and chop the garlic. Add to the pan along with the red pepper flakes. Crumble or chop the feta.

5)When the broccoli raab and pasta are done, drain and add both to the sauté pan. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Toss to mix. Add the feta and the olive oil. Toss well and serve. Pass the grated pecorino Romano at the table. Serves 4.

Calories: 367;  Fat: 11g /27%; Saturated Fat: 3.7g

FENNEL AND PARMESAN SALAD

Sometimes a grating cheese isn’t grated but shaved—often with a vegetable peeler—as it is in this updated salad recipe from my first book, “Eat Fresh, Stay Healthy (Macmillan).

  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • One large clove garlic, smashed but left whole
  • 1 medium fennel bulb
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • One clove garlic, smashed but left whole
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

1)In a small bowl, whisk the olive oil together with the lemon juice, salt and pepper. Add the garlic and stir well. Set aside for flavors to meld.

2)Trim stalks and fronds from bulb. Slice about 1/4 inch from the bottom and remove any blemished outer leaves. Wash and dry fronds. Chop and set aside. Halve bulb vertically and remove layers as you would an onion. Slice each layer into strips about 1/4-inch wide and put into a mixing bowl with all but 1 teaspoon of the fronds.

3)Pour dressing over the fennel and remove garlic. Toss and put on a serving platter.

4)Using a vegetable peeler, shave about 3 tablespoons of Parmesan evenly over the fennel. Garnish with additional black pepper and remaining fronds. Serves 3.

 

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