A Kosher Cheesemaker in Verona

Caseificio San Girolamo cheese board. Photo by Keri White

While traveling in Italy recently, I visited a cheese factory outside Verona called Caseificio San Girolamo. I hesitate to call it a factory because it was an artisanal family-owned operation.

The designation Grana Padano was created in 1996: It is a cheese like Parmesan in taste and texture. The main difference is the region of production; Grana Padano’s is north of Parmesan’s region and much larger, which makes it somewhat more affordable.
It is aged anywhere from nine to 20 months, and, at San Girolamo, there were some wheels aged for up to a decade.

The cheese can only achieve the Grana Padano designation if it is deemed of sufficiently high quality. One test to determine that is the sound it makes when the wheel is struck with a small metal hammer. The sonorous thud is an indication that the cheese is worthy of the label; if it does not sound right, the cheese can still be sold but does not receive the coveted seal.

A cheesemaker tests the quality of the Grana Padano. Photo by Keri White

We also learned that the folks at Caseificio San Girolamo cater to a Jewish clientele. They collaborate with a local rabbi who visits daily to inspect the premises and certify a portion of the cheese kosher. He signs the wheels in green ink and, when the aging process is complete, the kosher cheese is exported, mostly to France and Belgium.

The process is painstaking — the cheesemakers start with raw milk, heat it to a precise temperature, mix it with whey, cool it, then pour it into the molds and press it. It takes four gallons of milk to make two pounds of Grana Padano; that, along with the involved process and aging time, explains the relatively high cost of cheese. Once formed into wheels, the cheese is soaked in salt water, turned regularly and finally removed, rinsed and set on shelves to age.

Following the fascinating tour, which gave me a new appreciation for the meticulous process of making cheese, we had a tasting. The board consisted of several hunks of Grana Padano of varying ages, bread, some fresh mozzarella and a condiment that sort of blew my mind. It was called “mostarda” — the guide said it translates as “mustard,” but that is not really accurate.

Kosher markings on a wheel of Grana Padano. Photo by Keri White

Mostarda is a vinegar-based condiment common in Northern Italy and is served with cheese; it is generally made with onion, seasonal fruit and some spices. It was a bit like chutney but less aromatic. The version we had was made with local pears and heavily laced with fresh horseradish. It was, frankly, mind-blowing. Despite the time of year, the setting and the repast in front of me, all I could think was, “This belongs on a seder plate.”

Mostarda can be made with just about any fruit — pears, peaches, apples, quinces, figs, cherries are all fair game. I have managed to recreate the version we had, and I recommend it on just about anything — cheese, obviously. A turkey or roast beef sandwich.

A charcuterie board. Grilled meat or fish. And, if you are so inclined, next Passover, it would be a lovely addition to the seder plate.

Pear horseradish mostarda. Photo by Keri White

Pear Horseradish Mostarda | Pareve
Makes about 2 cups
A note on the horseradish: Using fresh horseradish and slicing it is optimal — it offers the purest flavor without the vinegar/salt brine of the jarred variety. You need a piece about 1½- to 2-inches long. If that’s not possible, the jarred is a decent plan B. Just limit the amount of liquid when you measure the 2 tablespoons.

4 pears, peeled, cored and diced
1 slice of lemon
1 cup sugar
2 cups water
1 cup white wine
1 cup white vinegar
½ teaspoon mustard powder
¼ cup thinly sliced horseradish (or 2 tablespoons prepared, jarred horseradish)
Pinch salt

Place the chopped pears in a small bowl and spritz them with lemon; set it aside.

In a medium saucepan, heat the sugar, water, wine and vinegar to a simmer. When the sugar dissolves, add the pears and remaining ingredients. Simmer, uncovered, for about 30 minutes until the pears are very soft and almost disintegrating.

Cool, then refrigerate the mostarda in a sealed container for a few days to allow the flavors to meld. Serve as desired with cheese or grilled meats.


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