Cheese: Pannerone Lodigiano
Producer: Caseificio Carena
Where: Casella Lurani, Lodi Region, Italy
Just about 20 miles from Milan is a small town called Caselle Lurani and in that town is an easy to miss creamery that turns out this cheese, among others, that is actually on an endangered species list of sorts. Pannerone, a cheese made from afternoon cow’s milk (2% more milkfat, apparently, than the morning take) has a few things that make it unique, and give it an acquired taste which may be why it is not nearly as widespread as it once was. In fact, the creamery run by the Carena family is the only producer left. Pannerone’s (comes from panéra, which means cream) unique qualities come from an unusual production process; the whey is allowed to run off naturally, there is no pressing involved at all and that makes for a soft cheese. Then, it sits for four or five days at 28-32 degrees until all the whey has drained. No salt is added to the cheese, so the bacteria that are at work here are solely responsible for the flavor. The cheeses look impressive in the cheese counter, which is how I happened upon it: a cylinder is about 8 inches high and a foot in diameter. It has lots of little holes and a nice pale ivory color.
My next challenge was to get a piece, after I identified what I wanted. That went through the point-and-use-exaggerated-facial-expressions method, because even if Venice is inundated with visitors from abroad, a lot of merchants do not speak anything but Italian, and my Italian is non-existent. It was clear what the message directly aimed at me was to convey: ‘no, this is not what you want.’
‘But it most certainly is!’ said my English words and my facial expressions and my body language. The gentleman I spoke to decided to bring in the big guns, the owner of the shop, who reiterated: ‘bee-ter!’. I was certainly not going to like it. After this final attempt to dissuade me, I just had to have it, and the experience of finally sinking my teeth into it was rewarding: not that it would make it to the top of my list, but my buying the cheese over some local objection and then reading up on it made the tasting feel like the end of a journey.
It is creamy and a bit sweetish at first, but it does develop an unusual, mildly bitter flavor in the mouth soon afterwards. It could do with some fruit, to counterbalance the bitter taste, and that is a popular combination in many recommendations. Pannerone has a D.O.P designation and the Slow Food organization recognize it’s uniqueness as well – they are in fact the people talking about it as if it is an endangered species worthy of preservation. Things look good though, at the Carena Creamery: the descendants of Angelo Carena who passed on to that great dairy in the sky two years ago seem to have fun doing what they are doing, judging by the images on their website, adn a determination to carry on the good work, all the way down to the youngest members of the family. Great-grandpa would be proud!