Few foods, in their most simple, unadulterated form, are as dazzling as cheese. Cheese is versatile, diverse, and always a pleasure to eat. Whether melted or grated, crumbled or sliced, there is very little cheese can’t do and nary a dish it cannot improve upon. I’ve always been fascinated by the fact that an object, often teeming with mould and reeking of unwashed gym socks can provide such a lovely flavor. Indigenous, specialty cheeses hail from nearly every nation all across the planet…some are rare, but some cheeses are almost universally available.
Some might argue that Parmigiano Reggiano, an aged cheese originally hailing from northern Italy, is at the apex of the cheese pyramid. The production of Parmigiano Reggiano is an Italian tradition that stems back some 700 years and is a real source of pride to the Italian people. It may be commonplace, found in markets and grocery store chains around the world, but high-quality, artisanal Parmigiano is nothing to scoff at. It has always been a personal favorite of mine. Its characteristic flavor profile, with sweet, salty, and nutty tones, has always been a thing of pure and simple bliss. On those occasions in which I am shopping for various cheeses in efforts to create a spectacular cheese board at home, I’ll often make an effort to sample a few less familiar cheeses, but I rarely leave the market without a block of Parmigiano to round out the plate.
Many wheels of Parmigiano Reggiano (the good ones, anyway) are aged up to two years. Understandably, cracking into an aged wheel is a rather exciting matter and represents the fruits of much labor, stringent testing, and many months of waiting. I’ve heard that any aged cheese, as soon as it’s cut into, opened, and exposed to air, instantly begins to slowly lose some of its savor. These cheeses are the product of complex chemical and microbiological reagents—bacteria and natural enzymes—that, over time, produce the mature, ripened flavors necessary for exceptional cheese. Personally, I’ve never had the opportunity to witness the opening and immediate sampling of a wheel of fine Parmigiano Reggiano, but it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. Now we’ve got the opportunity, Arkansas.
On Saturday, March 9th at 4 p.m. the cheeseheads at Whole Foods Market on Rodney Parham Rd. in Little Rock will be cracking open their wheel of 24-month aged Parmigiano Reggiano. They’re calling the event, “The Countdown to Parmageddon.” They claim to be making attempts at breaking a Guinness World Record for “most parmesan cheese wheels cracked simultaneously” (a highly coveted record to hold, obviously) by holding the event around the country with over 400 wheels being opened simultaneously. They’re touting the use of five different types of “official knives” to preserve the internal texture of the cheese. They’ll be offering samples, holding recipe demonstrations, and teaching about cheese pairing. It’s an event that’s not to be missed.
(Whole Foods Market Little Rock is located at 10700 N. Rodney Parham Rd, Little Rock. 501-312-2326)