When an earthquake rattled Italy’s cheese country, Italians responded with helping hands and open wallets. Now Italians are celebrating the region’s return with a virtual dinner across Italy. Break out the cheese and come along!
The region of Emilia-Romagna, just above Tuscany, is known for its rich alluvial soil, vast and varied food production, and most of all as the home of renowned Parmigiano Reggiano. Every day for centuries, milk producers deliver the milk to artisan cheese makers, who transform it into the fruity, granular, and complex cheese that is only produced here. Earthquakes on May 20 and May 29 shook the area, rattling people, cows, and buildings and causing an avalanche of more than 600,000 wheels of cheese. In all, more then 51 million pounds of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese tumbled to the ground from ceiling-high shelves. While the damages exceeded 150 million Euros and the earthquakes were deemed the worst here since the 1500s, something warm and fuzzy resulted. Italians and global consumers reached out to help, snapping up cheese that could no longer be stored properly at the damaged dairies and coming together to raise money to offset damages.
Five months later, Parmigiano Reggiano producers are organizing a virtual dinner to thank Italians for the acts of kindness that helped keep them in business. The Parmigiano Reggiano Consortium, a nonprofit group that regulates production and trade, is hosting a virtual dinner across Italy, using the Internet to rally diners everywhere. On October 27 at 8 p.m. in Italy, more than 60 million Italians will gather around tables to enjoy the same dish, on the same day, at the same time. And of course, Parmigiao Reggiano cheese is the star.
Massimo Bottura, chef/owner of the Michelin 3 star restaurant Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy, stepped up to create a special risotto for the dinner called Risotto Cacio e Pepe. Watch him prepare his dish (including English subtitles) at https://apps.facebook.com/parmigianonight/app. He says that this dish, featuring Parmigiano Reggiano, “represents our culture.” It utilizes one of his special techniques, a broth made from simmering the cheese, which is used to moisten the rice. The result is a decadent, creamy risotto with such an intense cheese flavor that it needs little else. The recipe here is adapted for American cooks.
If you host a dinner, snap a photo of your gathering and post it on the Parmigiano Reggiano Facebook page. This virtual table concept may just go viral, starting a new trend in global dining for a cause.
—By Lisa Holderness Brown