I thought this was an appropriate post for the 4th of July. As per usual, this is a true story, with not a word of a lie (okay there are possible embellishments for entertainment value only, that’s all). Enjoy!
On a recent trip to magnificent Rome, I found myself in a scene that I can only describe as the Italiano, formaggi version of that “Soup Nazi” episode from Seinfeld. Confused? Let me tell you the story.
In my extensive research to find the best cheese, pasta and foodie gems in Rome, I stumbled across this post by Parla Food on a special cheese boutique nestled away in Rome’s Jewish Ghetto district. Beppe Formaggi is a cheese concept store featuring divine Italian cheeses, mostly from the northern alpine region of Piedmont, and a rustic dining salon for private degustations and wine tastings.
After wandering for over an hour and getting completely lost trying to find the shop, I had hoped for a welcoming reception to match my high expectations and bright-eyed, food tourist enthusiasm. Armed with only my iPhone camera, pocket Italian vocab book and sheer excitement, I proceeded to do what came most naturally — taking photos, of course!
Little did I know, this was NOT the done thing in the boutique of Mr. Beppe Formaggi.
The man himself emerged from the back room: a gusto, hearty Italian character with a powerful presence who proceeded to sternly look at me and slowly shake his head. Confused, I attempted to introduce myself in hopeless broken Italian. I could have said, “My name is Rachel; I’m here to order a lifetime supply of formaggi for the entire extended family of Berlusconi,” but it would not have made a difference.
Ugh… how stupid of me not to ask permission first, I thought to myself. I’m not off to a good start here.
Here’s the photo I managed to take before being scolded like some sort of despicable undercover paparazzi:
Next attempt: Come on Rachel, you’re a cheese journalist (did I invent that title?) … Surely it will change things if I explain myself?
A younger, handsome lad with piercing northern Italian blue eyes arrived at the counter. This one smiled. I explained to him (resorting to English) that I am a journalist writing about cheese for America and Australia, and was it OK for me to take some photos?
He went to the back of the shop and had a few words with Mr. Beppi Formaggi, who again crossed his arms and shook his head. Blue-eyed boy came back with bad news.
“Sorry, miss, you can’t take photos.”
And that’s how I found myself as rejected as our friend George Costanza being told “No soup for you!” by the Soup Nazi — only in my case it was “No cheese for you!”
Okay, maybe that’s pushing it a bit, since I was still allowed the cheese, just not the photos.
So I figured, if I can’t take pics in the store, I will just have to taste the cheeses, buy them and photograph them back at the hotel room. So that’s what I did.
I started with the mildest of fresh Italian goat cheeses, the beautiful array of Meline di Capra — soft, delicate and crumbly, decorated and adorned with black ash, dried wild flowers, camomile buttons and herbs. I then worked my way through the brothers, sisters and cousins of the king of cheeses, Parmesan, and then finally asked for the rarest Italian blue cheeses I wouldn’t be able to find anywhere else.
Blue-eyed Italian boy disappeared under the counter and then produced a seductively oozing, runny blue cheese with a pale pinkish-orange rind. It was a six-month-old gorgonzola from Piedmont made of unpasteurized, non-treated cow’s milk.
“This one’s really special,” he said. “It’s too soft to pass you a sample but this one is so nice, she is almost sweet.”
“I’ll take it! Now, please show me your strongest blue cheese. A strong, very ‘gusto’ one, please!”
He returned holding a seriously mean-looking blue from under the counter.
“Are you sure you want to try her? Most people can’t handle this one, it’s verrrry strong.”
I replied without hesitation: “Absolutely!”
So, slicing off a sliver, I tried the sample. Boy, was that one big cheese! This blue had serious power. It was so strong it was almost spicy. The blue mould was so developed and intense you could actually feel the texture of it, kind of like a silver foil — practically crunchy. The aftertaste was a warming white peppery sensation that lasted a good 10 minutes on the palette.
Next, the pretty little fresh goats cheeses and our sweet and spicy feisty blues were wrapped up before we rushed off back to the hotel.
For our final night in Rome, what better way to celebrate than an Italian cheese pre-dinner aperitif with a nice bottle of champagne? I took some better pictures before the cheeses were quickly devoured. The rest of the blue came home with me and I’m still working my way through it and loving every spicy morsel!
Thanks, Mr. Italian Cheese Nazi, your welcome wasn’t exactly as warm and fuzzy as that spicy blue, but your cheeses are simply wonderful and made for an incredibly memorable last day in beautiful Rome.
This article was originally published for The Cheese Course — a European-style cheese shop in with nine locations in Miami and Florida, offering over 150 artisanal cheeses imported from dairy farms all over the world. Check out my new column where I write and video blog as “The Cheese Reporter” on their blog here.
The Roman Cheese Nazi (AKA “Beppe e I Suoi Formaggi”)
Is located at:
Via Santa Maria del Pianto 9A/11
If you do visit, say “hi” from me!