In view of the upcoming Papal Conclave to elect a new Il Papa, and because the eyes of the world will soon be trained on Rome, I thought I would spend a couple of posts exploring the rich and tasty world of Italian cheese.
Dean & Delcua in Doha is very helpful when it comes to identifying its’ cheeses, with little national flags printed on the name and price tags. This was recommended by the cheese counter guy, who later admitted he was actually the deli counter guy moonlighting because cheese guy was “working late”
“This one looks good,” he said, pointing at the large round on Montasio, a cheese I was not familiar with until now.
It’s a cow’s milk cheese from the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region, which is where people say central and eastern Europe collide. This cheese is sold in three ways based on the aging time of 60 days up to 10 months: fresh, middle and aged. It is made with milk from two milkings and is partially skimmed. It was originally a monastery produced cheese – see another link to the Vatican! Sort of…First produced 300 odd years ago by a lonely cow tending monk.
The chunk I bought today is smooth and the rind a pale yellow – which according to my sparse research, means it’s quite young. Apparently, when very young, it’s almost sweet, this one had a bit more bite.
Italian American chef celebrity Mario Batali calls this the “elder statesman” of cheeses: Montasio producers will tell you that its unique characteristics are the result of three basic ingredients: the sweet grasses and hay of the land, the crisp air of the mountains, and the milk that results from this happy combination,” he says.
Mantasio is the only ingredient of one of this region’s most famous dishes – Frico. Known to you and I as…fried cheese. A frico is a thin “cake” of grated Montasio, cooked in very hot pan with a bit of olive oil.
Apparently, an aged Montasio will result in a very crispy frico like a wafer, while a younger cheese will make a fricco that is soft and melting in the center. You can have it with soups or as crackers with wine.
Never one to pass up the opportunity to fry a piece of cheese, I gave it a whirl. Mine, as I said, was a younger Montasio, but after frying it and leaving it alone in my humble kitche, it became crispy. I would like to say I had it as an accompaniment to a fresh green salad. But I didn’t.
It’s freaking FRIED CHEESE.
Can’t talk…eating fried cheese. This must be done alone…
Wow that frico looks eeeeeeevil!
I’m afraid to tell you that this is not the real frico! I live in Friuli Venezia Giulia and I know both the recipes of frico (yes, there are two kinds of frico!) 🙂
The one made of cheese only requires the Montasio to be aged, so that it becomes crispy as you correctly wrote. The ideal way of preparing it is then to shape it while hot in a round calix: when cold, it will be the perfect place to serve Polenta, so that you will eat polenta with some bites of this crispy frico (yep, like eating a dish!). This is the first recipe and is mostly used in the Alps region of Friuli called Carnia.
The second way of preparing frico involves a few more ingredients: potatoes, onion, salt and olive oil. The kind of Montasio cheese to be used is the younger, but some bits of the aged one can be added to make it taste better. You start by frying the chopped onion in the olive oil; when it looks golden you add the potatoes (they need to be well chopped too) and cook until they are soft (I suggest you to boil them first, so it will take less time). Finally you add the montasio cheese and stir well until all the ingredients are mixed. Keep it in the pan for a minute more and then..it is ready!
WOW! thanks so much. Am going to hunt this down and try it