An Italian feast featuring Parmesan and Balsamic vinegar created by top chefs in the beautiful floral surroundings of Petersham Nurseries?
It didn’t take much for Belle to say yes, yes, yes when the invitation to a tasting of authentic Parmigiano Reggiano and Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena dropped onto our virtual mat.
The Italians see these two PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) products from the Emilia Romagna region as a perfect pairing.
As we sat at long tressle tables in the beautiful greenhouse of Petersham Nurseries – the upmarket garden nurseries with top notch restaurant and cafe attached – we were introduced to an expert from the Consorzio Parmigiano Reggiano, Simone Ficarelli, to guide us through the tasting.
A cheese can only have the Parmigiano Reggiano trademark if it’s produced and processed in the place of origin and created in accordance to strict rules – it has to be made by hand and the milk used must be fresh without additives or treatment of any kind, for example.
Simone took us through three different ages of Parmigiano Reggiano – the 24month, the 36month and the 48 month.
They all had their own distinctive flavour with the youngest one being a little milder – recommended for most traditional Italian pasta dishes, grated or shaved. The 36 month-old cheese was noticeably dryer and crunchier with more obvious crystals (a sign of age).
Simone explained that to release the flavour, you should break the cheese to let air in. It’s the equivalent of swirling wine around in a glass to get the best taste.
The 48-month-old had a mushroomy, more mellow flavour with less tang than then 36-month-old.
Next up was the perfect partner for Parmigiano Reggiano – Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena. This is most definitely not the watery balsamic vinegar that most of us happily splash all over our salads but another PDO product that is deeply revered in Italy. Dark, shiny and syrupy, this is not just a vinegar but more of a seasoning and is only sold in small bottles.
It’s made in the province of Modena and there are only 60 families producing 70,000 bottles a year of the dark syrupy liquid. After the vinegar has been made, it’s left to mature in barrels that families traditionally kept in their attics.
Again, there are different ages of vinegar at different prices – a 25-year-old with a gold top to the bottle and a 12-year-old with a beige top. Both have a complex flavour that is both sweet and sour – a brilliant foil to the tangy Parmigiano.
With our palates nicely tuned up from the tasting, head chef of Petersham Nurseries, Damian Clisby and Daniele Repetti of Michelin starred Italian restaurant Nido del Picchio, gave us a menu using all the different ages of Parmesan and balsamic through the different courses.
The highlights for Belle included a light elegant dish of tiny cappelletti pasta filled with 24 month old Parmigiano Reggiano served in an asparagus, mushroom and seaweed broth and a genius pairing of chocolate with 25 –year-old Aceto Balsamico giving a joyous zing and spark to the deep chocolate.
A special day to celebrate two very special products…