Italian Cheese Pairings – Review

Italian Cheese Pairings with AOP Agriform

Excuse me for being cheesy, but I enjoy a good Italian cheese!

Well, I love ANY cheese, but Italian cheeses absolutely have a special place in my heart.

A pivot that has come with this pandemic has been virtual food and drink tastings, leaving us food lovers the opportunity to explore and be educated while staying safely at home.

I’ve heard of many Italian cheeses before, such as Parmigiano-Reggiano and Asiago, but I was unaware that there were levels to Asiago, such as Stagionato and Fresco. Not only did I try Montasio and Piave for the first time, I had not even known of their existence prior to this tasting!

A few important points, according to AOP Agriform:

  • All cheeses are PDO (protected designations of origin). According to AOP Agriform: PDO “is a trademark given by the European Union to products whose quality or characteristics depend essentially or exclusively on the territory in which they were produced and therefore cannot be imitated outside a determined production zone.”
  • All cheeses in this tasting are from Northern Italy. For example, “The production area for Grana Padano PDO extends throughout Northern Italy and generally coincides with the territories of the Po Valley region north of the Po river. It covers 5 regions from Piedmont to Veneto and down part of Emilia Romagna.”
  • Each cheese has its own specific timeline for aging. “Asiago Fresco must be aged for at least 20 days at a temperature of around 50-59° F with humidity level of 80-85%” within its region. Asiago Stagionato, on the other hand, can be aged for as few as two months and over 15 months, the aging process broken down into specific levels such as Asiago Stagionato mezzano (4 – 6 months of aging), Asiago Stagionato vecchio (10 – 15 months), and Asiago Stagionato stravecchio (over 15 months).

Chef Carlo Bigi – currently the Executive Chef as Sleepy Hollow Country Club while previously working at The Bowery Hotel, Casa Levar, and Sant Ambroeus – crafted a master at-home tasting experience that’s rather unparalleled to any at-home tasting I’ve had during this past year. His knowledge of the cheese coupled with his mastery of how to match flavors created something special.

His pairings came as follows:

  • Grana Padano with Pumpkin Mostarda & Toasted Seeds
  • Piave with Red Onion Ginger Chutney & Marcona Almonds
  • Montasio with Port Wine Cranberry Compote & Crispy Kale
  • Parmigiano-Reggiano with Aged Modena Balsamic & Asian Pear
  • Asiago Fresco with Spicy Green Grapes & Shiso Leaves
  • Asiago Stagionato with Chestnut Honey & Roasted Hazelnuts

It’s hard to pick a favorite pairing, but if I had to, I’d give it to the Asiago Fresco with Spicy Green Grapes & Shiso Leaves the top prize. I love shiso leaves, often ordering shiso & plum rolls from my local Japanese I find them to be tangy and crisp yet cleansing; pairing it this cheese, which was relatively robust in flavor, was on point. This is a pairing I’d make for myself at home! It’d be a much needed upgrade from simple cheese and crackers. Ha!

Plus, this tasting came with a Negroni that damn near knocked my socks off! She was potent, but that is definitely not a complaint. 🥃😉

Thank you to Chef Bigi for crafting this masterful cheese pairing experience, as well as providing me with some new education about the creation of this PDO Italian cheeses.


Note: This cheese was complementary for tasting and review purposes. Thank you to the team behind Made With Amore + AOP Agriform Team for this opportunity! As always, all opinions are my own.

Jasmine Tea Hot Toddy with Empress 1908 Gin is the winter drink of your dreams!

Well, if you like tea, herbaceous gin, lemon, honey, and hot alcoholic beverages, the above statement is a true statement. Ha! But even if that sounds off to you, I bet I can change your mind.

I’ve long been a tea drinker, ever since I was a little kid. My tastes have changed. I used to be a peppermint tea with four sugars type of gal – thanks, Dad, for making me a sugar junkie as a kid! – but nowadays, I leave my teas sugarless but focus on dynamic flavors. Jasmine, tusli, a variety of mints, matcha, rooibos, you name it. Coming back to jasmine, I find it to be a a tea that’s both invigorating yet relaxing; I can drink a cup to perk myself up in the morning or drink a cup to wind myself down in the evening.

Anything herbal or botanical in my drinks makes me happy, so I was immediately drawn to Empress 1908 Gin. This vibrant gin is the love child of Victoria Distillers and Fairmont Empress Hotel in Victoria, British Columbia. It is micro-distilled in copper pots and colored vibrantly indigo with the addition of butterfly pea flower. It is an absolute delight in its mix of herbal and tea notes, unlike any gin you’ve had before, surely!

This recipe was all on a whim – as are way too many things I create – but the combination of this botanical gin and the jasmine tea were a matched made in heaven! I knew I wanted to create something hot and soothing, and the stars aligned for me the afternoon this all came together. Honest to goodness, I nailed this recipe on the first try and have not improved upon it since, because I think it’s divine just the way it is!

This is a drink that will warm you down to your bones, and it’s great anytime of the day! But, if you are working from home, perhaps drink it during non-working hours only. (But…I can’t stop you, can I?)

Jasmine Tea Hot Toddy with Empress 1908 Gin
Jasmine Tea Hot Toddy with Empress 1908 Gin

Jasmine Tea Hot Toddy

Ingredients:

  • 12 oz. water
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 bag of jasmine tea of choice
  • 2 oz. Empress 1908 Gin (or botanical gin of choice)
  • Juice of 1/4 lemon (medium to large-sized)

Directions:

1.) In a small saucepan, bring 12 oz. of water to a simmer. Stir in honey until dissolved. Remove saucepan from heat and add teabag; allow tea to steep for 2 – 3 minutes and discard teabag when finished.

2.) In a mug or glass that has at least a 15 oz. capacity, add tea mixture. Top with gin, squeeze in fresh lemon juice, stir, and enjoy!


Note: This original recipe comes as a part of a sponsored Instagram post I created for Empress 1908 Gin in November 2020. As always, all opinions are my own.

I’m preaching to the choir here: this is going to be a unique holiday season to navigate in the face of this coronavirus pandemic. Best practice indicates to largely stay away from people outside of our own households, so there should ideally be no gathering around the Christmas tree or lighting the menorah with our loved ones out of town, or even across town.

In my opinion, the best gift we can give to the ones we love this holiday season is the gift of literal physical space as COVID cases continue to climb, to know we love each other and are willing to not put anyone in harm’s way by potentially spreading this coronavirus. I’ve already told my parents I likely will not be staying home for Christmas, and they understand – thank you, Mom & Dad, for being logical science-understanders! – because even if I stay inside all day from now until a few days before Christmas, get swabbed, and quarantine until I get a negative result back, I live with people that work outside of our apartment, one of whom is patient-facing. I’m definitely not in a hermetically-sealed bubble and am always at risk of catching it even if I’m being careful, ya know? (Unless I can get a toilet, sink, mini-fridge, and hot plate in my bedroom and live college dorm-style for the next twenty-four days…) There is no point in putting my parents in a position to catch it from me just for the sake of having a “normal Christmas” in Connecticut for a few days, oy!

If all goes well, the holiday seasons of 2021 and beyond will be much more “normal”, and I have great faith that we can hold on until then.

In this same vein of seeing how the pandemic has affected us all, it has affected businesses, from ones in large cities down to ones in bucolic small towns. Wouldn’t it be nice to support them while finding a wonderful gift or two to send a loved one we cannot see in person this year? Let us continue to support local businesses, Black-owned businesses, minority-owned businesses, and women-owned businesses this holiday season and beyond, no matter where you live.

There are so many wonderful NYC-based food & drink brands that I have connected with over the years – and a few of them that I’ve included may be slightly be outside of the immediate confines of the five boroughs, but I had to include them! – and I am excited to share this list. Some goods are available only locally, while others can ship their goods nationwide! Please support them, whether it’s purchasing from them or simply sharing this post with others. ❤️

(And yes, the dessert list is the longest. No need to mention it. Ha!)

NOTE: All food and drink items below have been personally vetted by me; i.e.: I have consumed from every business mentioned below! This list could – of course – be greatly extended, but I am posting regarding brand I have tried, enjoyed, and purchase from.

AND ALSO: Certain business may not ship to all states, and some businesses only deliver within the NYC Metro Area; I’ve noted this where necessary, but *please inquire with businesses directly* if you have further questions about pick-up, delivery, or shipping.

NYC Food & Drink Brands – A 2020 Holiday Guide!

NYC Alcohol Brands

NYC Beverage Brands

NYC Dessert Brands

NYC Condiment Brands

In 2007, this gal who has travelled, admittedly, too little – I’m not a good flyer… – I went to Austria to participate in International Advent Sing with my alma mater’s choral group. I was in the Bay Path Chorale from 2003 – 2006, and I was thrilled when they invited me to participate as an alumni member! (Truth: I’m convinced they were low on altos, but I was still appreciative. Ha!)

As I was traveling, I was eager to try traditional Austrian fare. I did have to roll my eyes a little when some of my friends and I entered up as a multi-level buffet restaurant; I happily grabbed schnitzel, spätzle, and apple dumplings as my friends bought…spaghetti and pizza. Not in Austria! I could eat that back in Connecticut, I wanted to immerse myself in local foods as much as I could! Sure enough, as our trip went on, I got to indulge in platters of meat on the bone and Austrian wines at Gumpoldskirchen, and I had the best goulash of my life at Melk Abbey. I’ll never forget those huge burrito-sized cream puffs from Anker Bakery, and I’m happy that I got to try the famed Sacher-Torte at Hotel Sacher!

Me at The Hundertwasser House in Vienna, Austria – November 2020. No food in this pic, but plenty of cats!

Honestly, do I explicitly remember eating cheese on my trip? Most likely, but I can’t remember any specific times when I did.

Luckily, I can get most any food I desire here in New York City! And thank goodness for that!

Recently, I was reached out to by Europe Home of Cheese to sample some Austrian Mountain Cheeses. Along with the cheeses, I received some education material regarding them and Austria’s historic cheesemaking processes.

I received three cheeses to try. The Mountain Herbs Rebel from Käserebellen is lactose-free, verified GMO-free, matured in natural rind, and made from mountain farmer’s hay milk TSG, which you can read more about here. Its herbaceous flavor is unbelievable! The Alp Blossom – soft with a stunning coating of marigold, rose petals, lavender, and chervil – has a subtle sweetness yet a strong robust flavor at the same time; this cheese borders on “too pretty to eat!”, but I was able to get over that and enjoy all that cheese had to offer. Finally, I received Moosbacher; if I had to compare it to something you might know, think of a Jarlsberg or a Emmental kind of swiss. Its tang is undeniable, and its smooth texture with its tender bite is always inviting.

What strikes me about these cheeses is the care put into their production. In a nutshell, there are stringent standards that Austrian cheese production must adhere to, and I always appreciate transparency when it comes to the foods I consume. A few key points to share, via the team at Europe Home of Cheese:

  • “Bergkäse” translates to “mountain cheese” ; roughly 70% of Austrian cheese producers are located in the Austrian Alps.
  • Austrian dairy production – cheese-production included – is verified non-GMO.
  • 90% of farms are family-owned, the oldest is dating back to 1313!
  • There are an average of 20 dairy cows per family business to control animals’ welfare.
  • 25% of Austrian agriculture is organic; per EHC: “More than 30 years ago, Austria was the first country in the world to establish governmental guidelines for the organic production of food.”

From an American standpoint, I feel we buy a lot of our cheese from the grocery stores – think our pre-packed cheddars and mozzarellas from large brands such as Kraft or Cracker Barrel – but with little consideration regarding the process of the cheesemaking, much less the treatment of the animals involved. The strict – which I say in a positive way! – regulations on cheese production in Austria truly made a difference in these cheese overall; as a consumer, I can take comfort in knowing I’m consuming something top notch from well-treated animals, and I can – quite literally – taste the difference. Per EHC: “Austrian mountain cheese follows the quality standards set by the European Union, which guarantees the authenticity, quality, place, and technique of these Austrian alpine cheeses.”

With over 400 types of Austrian cheeses, do yourself a favor and check out what your local cheese shop has to offer. You’ll be more than pleasantly surprised as what you’ll find!

Please visit their Facebook page for more information regarding Europe Home of Cheese!


Note: This cheese was gifted to me for an editorial review on my website. As always, all opinions remain my own. Thank you to Europe Home of Cheese and the Austrian Mountain Cheeses campaign for this tasty opportunity!