Wherever you go in Italy, from small towns to big cities and everywhere in between, there is one dish you are sure to run into over and over again. A cheese plate served with local honey and delicious fruit jam.
We have enjoyed cheese plates beach side in Sardinia, next to Piazza Navona in Rome, in a tiny Florentine trattoria and a roof-top restaurant in Venice. Each one has been unique and memorable.
Cheese plates are exciting to me because in each region you find local cheeses specially made from what the region does best.
My friend in Treviso introduced us to a cheese from the mountains aged in wine barrels that left us speechless.
In Sardinia, you can taste life on the island in its Pecorino Sardo. Made from sheep’s milk, this cheese embodies the best of the island. History. Hard work. Tradition. A little salty. Slightly piquant. Some hard, some soft. All fabulous.
Among my favorite Italian cheeses is without a doubt, Gorgonzola. It can be creamy or crumbly. Melted into a sauce, it’s exquisite. Served on a cheese tray, it begs for sweet flavors like figs or balsamic, and a great Italian wine.
We had some friends from Italy over this weekend. One of them, from Rome, saw our cheese tray with Gorgonzola and cutting a piece said, “I love Gorgonzola. I don’t LIKE Gorgonzola… I LOVE Gorgonzola!” I laughed and agreed, cutting my own slice too.
Usually in Italy, a cheese plate will consist of four or five different cheeses. Sometimes they are served with some crackers or grissini like Mia Emilia’s Michelis Egidio breadsticks.
Almost always, there will be a variety of cheeses consisting of one soft or creamy variety, usually two hard cheeses, and one or two semi-soft. The flavors and textures are beautiful together.
On the plate, usually we find two little dishes of condiments. One will certainly be a local honey. The other, a delicious jam. Jams are always carefully selected to compliment the cheese varieties, and together, the combination is delicious.
When I first tasted Mia Emilia’s fabulous Fig Jam from the producers at Acetaia Castelli, I could hardly believe my taste buds! The flavor is so unique, perfectly marrying the flavors of figs and balsamic vinegar, but the texture is just as impressive. Chunky from the fruit, the slightest crunch from the seeds, held together by the smooth jam with the sweet and sour balsamic. It begs to be served on a plate with fine seasoned cheeses.
Perfect to pair with my beloved Gorgonzola is the Pear Jam with balsamic vinegar of Modena and DOC Moscato wine. Also delicious with Fontina, Pecorino, and other flavorful cheeses, we love this with a cheese plate. Served with a sweeter white wine like Moscato, Asti, or Moscadello, the flavors are harmonious and unforgettable.
For Goat Cheese lovers, enjoy your favorite cheese served with Mia Emilia’s Strawberry Jam with balsamic vinegar of Modena. Although, the strawberry and balsamic flavor is also delicious with sweeter milder cheeses like Mascarpone, or Brie.
Coming home from Italy, we miss so many things. We also, however, return with ideas to incorporate the food and culture into our daily lives.
This weekend, looking around at our friends, listening to the combination of languages being spoken in our living room, and sipping a glass of wine, I felt so blessed. Blessed to have experienced the flavors and moments we had together in Italy. And, just as much, blessed to be able to share moments of great food and friendship closer to home.