Friday, September 10, 2004


Last night we had macaroni and cheese! What’s the big deal? The fact that there is no cheddar cheese in Italy makes macaroni and cheese VERY special.

Our friends from England, Jonathan and Phillipa surprised us with two packages of cheddar cheese when they visited us during the middle of August. We met them through the Slow Travel message board. Jonathan is a “regular” there, as am I, and when I found out that they would be staying not far from us for a week, I suggested that we get together.

I asked Jonathan if they would bring me some cheddar cheese, thinking that they would be flying directly from London to Italy. This shows you how much like an American I still think. For me, flying is the “normal” way to arrive in Italy. When you already live in Europe or Britain, driving is the most common way.

Jonathan and Phillipa drove from England over the course of three days, stopping in France and in northern Italy for a night as they made their way to central Italy. They spent a week in the Le March region and another week in Umbria. The advantage of driving is that they have their own car. The disadvantage is that their car is right hand drive…they seem to be comfortable with it, but I know it would be confusing for me!

Because it would be nearly two weeks after they left England before we would see them, and because their drive over would be three days long, the feasibility of bringing cheese was not good. I certainly understood the situation, and completely forgot about my request. If it had worked out, it would have been great. Since it didn’t work out, we’d just have to wait until we went back to the states to enjoy missing pleasures such as cheddar cheese.

When Jonathan and Phillipa surprised us with the cheddar cheese, we were both surprised and touched! Who knew such a simple thing would be so highly prized?! Since we received the cheese just three days before we left for cooking school, we didn’t want to open the packages, so macaroni and cheese would have to wait.

Once we returned from cooking school, I was so busy trying to re-try all the cooking school recipes that I kept putting off making the macaroni and cheese. We invited Wendy for dinner, telling her that we would prepare some of our new recipes. This wasn’t quite what she had in mind, though, and she suggested “Or we could have some macaroni and cheese.” Good idea!

My problem now was to find a recipe that would work with the cheese that I had. Both packages were white English cheddar. One was labeled “full bodied mature” and the other “extra mature”. In the states I used a combination of sharp cheddar and a creamier cheese like Colby or Co-Jack. Now I would have to find a recipe that would work for the cheeses I had.

I searched my cookbooks and the internet. I found one recipe that called for evaporated milk. That wouldn’t work, since evaporated milk isn’t found in Italy either. I found several recipes using combinations of cheeses, but I really wanted good old fashioned cheddar cheesy macaroni and cheese. I finally settled on a recipe that used a combination of cheddar and fontina cheese. I knew that fontina was a creamier cheese, but that was about all I knew. I decided that it was my best option.

Normally when I make a recipe for the first time, I follow it to the letter. After we’ve tasted it, I then decide what adjustments I’ll make in the future. This recipe called for two cups of each cheese, 6 cups of uncooked macaroni, a thin béchamel sauce, and a topping of bread crumbs. I was hoping that the béchamel would increase the creaminess.

We had the macaroni and cheese last night and here’s what I think. I think it was good, but not cheesy enough. I still have plenty of cheddar left, so I’ll have more opportunities to perfect this recipe. First I think I’ll reduce the pasta to four cups. Secondly I’ll change the proportions of cheddar and fontina, using more cheddar and a little less fontina. But this is for the next time…for now, I have to say that macaroni and cheese is indeed a true comfort food.

The dish we had last night was SOOOO good! Although I would have liked it to be a bit cheesier, just the thought of having macaroni and cheese was wonderful! I like the crunch of the breadcrumb topping, and the creamy chewiness of the macaroni and cheese WAS comforting. What a treat! Jonathan and Phillipa, THANK YOU! We can’t wait to make ANOTHER batch!

Other food thoughts:

One of the other dishes that I made for dinner last night was a pepper dish we made at cooking school. Although this recipe is delicious, the interesting thing about it is what it’ made me, and especially Art, realize.
Art was always picky about the temperature of his food. If it was supposed to be hot, he wanted it HOT! And if it was supposed to be cold, he wanted it cold. Lukewarm just was NOT ACCEPTABLE.

In Italy many things are normally served at room temperature…..everything except pasta of course. Pasta is always served hot and eaten immediately.
Many other things, such as the pepper dish I made last night are eaten at room temperature. This allows the flavors to really come through. The flavor isn’t masked by extreme hot or extreme cold, and we’ve both come to appreciate this.

The other thing that we’ve come to appreciate is having each dish served separately, rather than our American, everything all together style. We’ve come to appreciate the Italian-style, where each dish is served and savored separately.

I think that in Italy, the emphasis is more on the food, and rightly so. When you have food this good, every bite should be enjoyed. In the states, meals seem to be more social, and the food almost secondary. In Italy meals are a time to share with family and friends, but the primary focus is on the food. Each dish is served separately, beautifully presented, and enjoyed. This is one reason why meals can last so long…each course is an event unto itself. Although I still continue to have my salad before the meal rather than at the end, I have come to appreciate and agree with these other differences.


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