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.