Saturday, September 22

A cheese by any other name... doesn't touch my food!



I had dinner guests at my house tonight and I served manicotti. I also made meatballs. Now, please know that what makes my meatballs so good is the enormous amount of pecorino romano (aka "parmesan,") cheese that I add to them. So, the topic of conversation turned to... cheese, and my one friend asked if it were Lo-ca-tel-li cheese. As if there were any other kind?? Her husband, for whom she does not make Italian food, since although she is Italian, he is not, had never heard of this cheese. I showed him the little bag of almost one pound of the finely grated cheese. He saw the price and said "NINE DOLLARS FOR THAT?" His wife and I looked at each other and just said "yeah." Like, duh, of course, IT'S LO-CA-TELL. You can buy it in a big wedge and grate it yourself or buy it already grated. I have carpal tunnel syndrome in my right hand so I can't grate it anymore, but it tastes just as good if it is already grated.

I was raised on this cheese. I never knew it by "pecorino romano", or "parmesan," or "grated" cheese. It was just "Lo-ca-tel." as we tend to omit the end of words in Italian.) No other brand ever made it into the house. In fact, before I wrote this, I asked my friend, "When you were a kid, what did you put on top of the gravy on macaroni night?" No hesitation: "Lo-ca-tel." My dad would buy it in South Philly at the corner cheese store or the Italian deli, and in fact, still drives there to get it for my mom. When I lived in Lancaster County, PA, for college, the Pennsylvania Dutch-owned stores and even the bigger supermarkets did not carry such cheese. It's usually in the deli section. So, my first time shopping on my own at 19, I had no choice but to buy Kraft grated cheese in a can. The can was green and I can still remember the taste of the "cheese." I believe it was actually made of plastic. I can't quite describe the taste, but if evil had a flavor, it would be that Kraft grated "cheese." I threw out the pasta I had made because once the cheese touched it, it ruined the entire meal for me.

I called my mom and she "tsk'ed tsk'ed" me for buying it but there was not a lot to choose from. Since I have lived in five different counties in the state, I have tried a lot of grated cheeses when lo-ca-tel was not available and each time I opted to eat my macaroni without cheese after having tasted it. Now to an Italian, at least, in my family, macaroni, or "pasta," is never served without grated cheese. However, because it is so expensive, my mom frowns on using a lot. I have inherited that trait and have been asked if I'm giving out Communion when I put cheese on everyone's food so they won't use a giant pile. Then some smart cavone grabs it and dumps about $2.75 worth onto his capellini.

14 comments:

Stephanie Palumbo said...

i can't tell you how much i relate to this. it made me really happy.

(as proof, i wrote a review of locatelli a while ago, on mcsweeneys: http://www.mcsweeneys.net/links/newfood/)

Anonymous said...

I TOO GREW UP ON LOCATELLI CHEESE, MY GRANDPARENTS HAD A SMALL GROCERY STORE. UNTIL I GOT OLDER I NEVER KNEW THERE WERE OTHER CHEESES FOR MACARONI. IN MY HOME WE LOVE TO EAT IT AS A SNACK EVEN MY BEAGLE LOVES THE LOCATELLI.

turbodb30 said...

I had the same experiences myself when I moved out of my neighborhoo in brooklyn and joined the Marine Corps. I started laughin when i read the line when you called the sauce gravy. I do the same thing thats how it was in my family and people still argue with me bout that. But like u said their is nothin like Locatelli or Italian deli meats to put in da gravy.

Anonymous said...

I too grew up on LOCATELLI. I recently moved from NY to North Carolina. There is no such cheese here. I have searched high and low. I even went to a fresh market sampled all the varieties and put them back on the shelves. SSHHHHhhhh! I havent eaten pasta since I moved here. I cant live without it. I was spoiled having an italian butcher right down the block from me in NY. I sweat the people here don't know what good cheese is or any food or any italian food for that matter. Olive garden is the best italian here **CRYING** HELP ME!!!!! LOL Loved your Blog
Cara the locatelliless chick.

Anonymous said...

I laughed out loud!! I know, I know, there is no other...My Mummum had like 1,200 grandkids, we were all over the place, in the grape arbor, chasing the chickens while she would make Wedding soup for all of us, always with the little egg croutons to float on top, and tiny bowls of locatelli, grated so fine it was like snow...I always wondered "How did she find the time??" When we were small, the bowls were babyfood jars..I guess use what you have!! Life without locotell is just not worth living....

Anonymous said...

This is so true! I'm originally from NY and locatell is all we used. When I moved to Pennsylvania, my Grandmother would bring pounds of it with her on the bus so we could still eat pasta. After 3 years of living in Idaho, I finally found it in a co-op specialty grocery store. My husband did not understand my excitement (until he had some, of course). I can finally make the family recipes away from home!

Anonymous said...

I loved the original article and all the responses; I felt like I was right at home! I grew up in the Bronx and now live in Queens, and Locatelli was what we used and what we still use. Grandma would send me to the store for a pound of Locatelli and a pound of "chuck-a-chopped" (say it with an Italian accent). It couldn't be sirloin; it had to be chuck-a-chopped for the meatballs - the fat gave it flavor. We always make "gravy" for the "macaroni". (Loved reading that from some of you!) What's the difference between macaroni and pasta? You make macaroni at home and you eat "pasta" in a restaurant so they can charge you alot more. Here's too good eating (Al Buon Cibo)!

fwiskykitty@aol.com said...

Oh,,how my family and I identify with all of you!! Locatelli,,,there just is NOT a substitute! I grew up in an old italian neighborhood where the bread up the street was made fresh and brought up by a dumbwaitor by the bakers, you could smell the bread from blocks away. So Sunday dinner was the fresh bread, the hundred meatballs made the night before, the homemade ravioli and macaroni,,,,,all topped w/ the glorious 'loratell'. My son, who is THE pickiest eater of all time will only eat this cheese and I'm proud to have passed this taste onto him.

The Daily Rant said...

Great post! I just did one myself on the very same thing!

Mmmmmm....Locatelli. Nothing like it.

I really related to your post as I too grew up with this cheese.

Anonymous said...

Moved from South Jersey to Florida 18 years ago and still have the locatelli shipped here via my father from a small neighborhood store where he lives. Food just doesn't seem fit to eat without it!! (Also have pepperoni shipped from Jersey - can't find any decent down here!)

Anonymous said...

Well, first of all, Parmesan is Parmesan and Romano is Romano. In fact last night I went through half a wedge of Parmesan with a bottle of Corvo. One of life's simple pleasures. I am Sicilian and grew up in Lodi NJ with all my Sigi relatives, a town where there is a big statue of Christopher Columbus in front of city hall with one flag pole and two flags: US and Italy. Now I live in south jersey. When I have my kids friends over for dinner, they don't know from nothin, they see the locatell and cheese grater and they don't know what to do with it. It's a good feeling to show them how to grade the cheese on the macaroni. Kind of like doing a public service. Ciao

Chet said...

Living in central Florida where the cultural and culinary epicenter is the local Walmart SuperCenter, there's not a decent piece of fresh pasta within an hours drive. I make my own sauce from scratch like my grandmother and my mother before me but the dry and emaciated cheeses offered here just don't hold a candle to the Locatelli that I grew up with. I now order it through the Internet and have it delivered to our house. Oh the sweet memories that are conjured up by the pungent aroma as I freshly grated on delicate ribbons of pasta. I am home once again.

Carlo Cas said...

I also grew up with locatti, I use to get in trouble for eating all the cheese, they would always find out when we were sitting down for dinner. I fine it's best when used with ricotta cheese on macaroni with little extra sauce.
Polly O, Of course locatti is great on its own.
You couldn't sit down and enjoy a fish sauce without it.

Carlo Cas said...

I also grew up with locatti, I use to get in trouble for eating all the cheese, they would always find out when we were sitting down for dinner. I fine it's best when used with ricotta cheese on macaroni with little extra sauce.
Polly O, Of course locatti is great on its own.
You couldn't sit down and enjoy a fish sauce without it.