It’s been three full years since Eataly opened their Chicago location and I will admit wholeheartedly, that this store has become my second home. After living in Rome and Milan for eight months, I think of Italy every day, and it’s always nice to a retreat that brings me back to a happy place reminding me of the value of slow food and fine ingredients.
This class was a birthday gift for my boyfriend who is naturally also a major foodie. We may have been the youngest people in the room, but during this guided tasting, we loved “nerding” out on with one the city’s most talented experts on cheese.
Nick worked for the Chicago cheese shop chain Pastoral, before coming to Eataly to sharing his passion and expertise at the Scuola located on the second floor. We were lucky to have the chance to take a class with him before he climbs the culinary ladder to open Eataly in Boston.
(From Left to Right: Gorgonzola Piccante DOP, Pecorino Gregoriano, Torta di Peghera, Robbiola Roccaverano DOP)
We kicked off the class by getting settled in with a glass of wine and were each given a plate of four generous portions the of the stores best imported Italian cheeses. Nick shared with our group his wealth of knowledge on the science behind making cheese and he brought us through thick and thin of this industry discussing everything from the sheep, rind complexity, acidity, aging, aroma and ammonia in cheese. Ammonia and cheese? Yikes! But I learned even if you can’t stand the strength of raw cheese, there is something fun in tasting just a bite to see how it plays with your palette and what distinct flavors make up the cheese.
The class took us through formaggio made in a variety of different regions of Italy. We started in Asti, which is near Piemonte, known for producing the Robiola Roccaverano DOP. This raw goat’s milk takes two weeks to prepare after coming in from Northern Italy. It takes on a gooey, silky texture and is bursting with active flora. This cheese was a bit strong for my taste. We then tasted a similar cow’s milk from Lombardia which was a little sweeter in flavor, and it takes four weeks to prepare to the fact that the bee linens on the rind take more time to develop the full flavor in the cheese.
I learned that Nick goes through a process of preparing the cheese and every cheese has different time frames for how long it takes to be ready to eat. He mentioned that he will spend weeks turning his imported cheeses, “singing to them” to ensure they are prepared to perfection. The cheese takes on new texture as they are turned forming the creamy “brie” like buttery form of pasteurized cheese.
One of the most interesting takeaways from attending this class was learning about Eataly’s partnership with the Marcelli Family Farms, at La Porta di Parchi in Abruzzo Italy. Nunzio Marcelli is currently making this cheese in house on his farm where the family has been producing the cheese the same way they have been for a history of 500 years. I am dying to visit this agriturismo where you can stay at the farm and learn about the cheese making process for this authentic soft cheese. The cheese is produced using a New Zealand grazing process with a special heritage breed of soprafazina sheep who graze on the rich Abruzzo National Park soil. These sheep are unique because they only give a fifth of the yield of milk per year than other sheep do. Nick warned us that we would reach “pallet blow out” upon tasting the oaky, earthy, unami flavors.
My favorite of the four was a Gorgonzola Piccante DOP from Milano. This cheese is packed full of bitter, sharp and spicy flavors. We picked up a ¼ pound from the store to take home and pair with steak. Delizioso!
We also learned that you should keep your cheese in a wax paper or deli paper to conserve the most flavor after you purchase it. Nick told us that you should never use wax paper because it does not allow the cheese to breathe properly! Learn something new every day, oops apparently I have been eating bad cheese for years!
The class was not cheap, so we were happy that the cheese monger selected all of the finest cheeses available for sale costing up to $50 for a pound. I would have never reached for some of these cheese varieties and was glad that I was able to taste a few new options out of the realm of my go-to favorites like parmigiana, and manchego. If you haven’t taken advantage of the Eataly Scuola, it is a must for visitors to Chicago, and it made for a great date night J I’ll let him schedule our next class…
City girl, traveler, foodie and film fanatic sharing stories on every day, attainable luxury. Passionate about speaking Italian, exploring, cooking, and crafting.