Nearly every region of Italy has its own version of pasta and beans and pisarei e faso is the specialty of the area around Piacenza, where most of my relatives live. For people who don’t know where Piacenza is, it’s a city of about 100,000 people that’s south of Milan, but north of Florence. I’ve been eating pisarei e faso for decades on my visits there, but this was the first time I actually made the dish. With the help of my cousin Lucia, I learned how to make it on my recent trip. With the help of my son Michael, who took this two-minute video, you can see how it’s done too.
Click on the small triangle at the lower left of the video. A little pop-up box that enables you to share the video keeps sprouting up, but if you click on the small “x” at the top of the pop-up box, it goes away.
Here’s how you make the pisarei – you need just bread crumbs, flour and water.
for the pisarei:
3/4 cup fine bread crumbs
1 1/2 cup flour
1 T. oil
about 1/4 cup boiling water
about 1/4 cup cold water
Add the boiling water to the bread crumbs and mix until it’s the consistency of sand. Wait until the mixture has come to room temperature, then add the flour, oil and cold water. Knead it for several minutes until it forms a dough. Then break off a small chunk and roll it with the palms of your hand into a narrow roll. Break off small bits of dough and using your thumb, press each bit down onto a wooden board and roll away from the body, until you get a small gnoccho. It should look somewhat like a little bean.
a small piece of lard or pancetta, cut into bits (about 1/4 cup)
3 T. olive oil
about 2 cups of canned tomatoes
about two cups of cooked borlotti beans, or dried beans that have been soaked
1 stalk of celery, finely minced
1 t. sugar
pinch of salt
1/2 cup water
a bit of parsley
Saute the lard or pancetta in the olive oil, and add the tomatoes. Let it come to a simmer then add the beans, the celery, sugar salt, water and parsley. My cousin doesn’t saute the celery with the olive oil because she says it becomes bitter that way. Add it when you add the tomatoes. Cook for about 20 minutes to a half hour.
When the sauce is ready, bring a large pot of water to boil. Cook the pisarei in the boiling water until tender then drain directly into the sauce. The sauce should be very loose. Add more water until reaching the right consistency.
How would you like to be in a temperature-controlled room, surrounded by $190 million worth of grana padano cheese? It was the final stop in a visit I made recently to Caseificio Santa Vittoria near the town of Carpaneto, in the region of Emilia Romagna, where most of my Italian relatives live. Before we get to that final stop however, I’ll take you through the steps used in making this glorious cheese.
Every day at this caseificio, about 116 thousand pounds of milk are collected and placed in large stainless steel tanks, where most of the cream is separated out and made into butter. The partially skimmed milk is placed in large copper pots, where natural whey, derived from the previous day’s cheese-making process, is added. This natural culture of lactic bacteria augments the acidity, helping to solidify the milk into cheese. The milk is then heated to about 87 degrees fahrenheit, and rennet, derived from cows’ stomachs, is added for coagulation. The milk starts to become more gelatinous and curds are broken up in the cauldron. It’s then cooked at a higher temperature of between 127 degrees and 132 degrees fahrenheit.
The curdled milk from each of the copper vats is then placed into plastic pots that are lined with linen cloth. The liquid part, or the whey, stays behind and some of it is used for fermatation of the following day’s milk. The whey is also what’s used to later make ricotta, a word that means “recooked.” Each copper vat holds enough curdled milk to fill two of the plastic forms.
A day later, the cheese has firmed enough to be put into round stainless steel forms. This will give the cheese its distinctive shape, during the three days when it’s kept at a low temperature to solidify.
Giuseppe Rizzi, who manages the caseificio and who was kind enough to give us a tour, explained that each wheel is stamped with a teflon form that indicates its identity – the date and where it was made.
The wheels travel along an assembly line where a worker removes the stainless steel lining and stamps the cheese, both with the teflon imprint, and with another imprint on top.
They keep moving on the belt until they are pushed into a vat of salted water.
They remain in the saline solution for about twenty-three days, a process that helps form what will become the hard, outer rind.
The wheels of cheese are cleaned with plain water to get rid of any excess salt and left to age on shelves for at least nine months, and as long as 30 months.
Every 10 days, a machine rotates the wheels of cheese and cleans them with a brush to keep mold from forming on the outside. As they age, they’re cleaned less often.
The wheel below was made in March 2010. The PC on the side refers to the province of Piacenza and the number 507 to the Caseificio Santa Vittoria. These cheeses are considered D.O.P., or “Dominazione Origine Protetta.” That’s a guarantee by the European Union that the cheese has been made using rigid standards and is worthy enough to receive the fire branding mark of “grana padano.”
Each of these shelves holds 1,180 forms of cheese, and the entire caseificio contains 45,000 wheels of cheese. My son Michael, as well as me and my cousin Lucia, were trying to figure out a way to take one home, but maybe I should have planned better and brought a larger purse.
Grana Padano tastes a lot like parmigiano reggiano, but there is a difference in both how it tastes and how it’s made. You can find out more about parmigiano reggiano by clicking on a post I wrote about it a couple of years ago here. For Grana Padano, cows are permitted a broader range of food and are raised in an area that’s twice the size of the area where parmigiano is made. Padano refers to the Po Valley, and as seen in the map below, the cheese is made in Lombardia and some parts of Emilia-Romagna, but also in Piedmont and the Veneto. Parmigiano, however, is strictly confined to the four provinces in the region of Emilia Romagna: Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena and Bologna.
Grana Padano is less salty and less complex than parmigiano reggiano, but it’s also less expensive. Both are delicious, but parmigiano has that nutty crunch of crystals between my teeth that I love. Some people buy the less expensive grana padano to grate, but it’s also wonderful as a table cheese. At the caseificio, a kilo (2.2 pounds) of grana padano that’s aged 20 months costs about $16.00, or a little more than $8 a pound, considerably less than here in the states.
Stay tuned for my next post when you get to see how my cousin put this wonderful cheese to work in a typical Piacentine dish called “Pisarei e faso.”