On the Bitto Trail

Sono in Italia! I’m only here for 36 hours (damn those American vacation limits!), but I’m making the most of it. I’m in the Lombardy region around Milan. When I told Perlagrigia, my cheese-loving, Italian-speaking colleague from work that I would be in this area, she urged me to seek out a particular cheese, Bitto. In doing a bit of preliminary research, I learnt that it is one of the most rare, and therefore more expensive, cheeses in the world!

Thus, I was surprised to find it featured on a pizza at the restaurant where I dined with my Italian friend Philadelphia–I am cheesening her with this name because she’s the one who first told me that in Italy, La Philadelphia is the name used colloquially for cream cheese! However, Philadelphia is actually much more of a meathead than a cheese fiend like me. For proof, just take a look at her pizza pictured in the background.ctmy97-la pizza con bitto!

But back to my pie . . . I think it was called the Alpine Pizza, or at least I recall it having a name that spoke to it featuring local ingredients. In addition to Bitto, it also came with porcini mushrooms, and there had been meat on it, but when Philadelphia placed our orders she requested that they hold it, due to me being a veghead. Anyway, my notes say this pizza was “delish”, or rather delizioso?

I’m very glad I happened upon it, seemingly by chance, in Lecco. Later that afternoon, I was back in Milano and I stopped into the decidedly gourmet grocery Peck. It’s so fancy that one has to pay for one’s purchases before picking them up. I went to the cheese counter and told the man there in my stumbling Italian that I had been urged to try the Bitto. I was hoping that he’d offer me a sample.

ctmy98-peck foilAlas, he did not pick up on my hint. He told me that the Bitto Storico (aged for 10 years and thus the more costly) would crumble to bits if he cut off a slim portion. Honestly, I’d’ve not minded that, but I guess he didn’t want to sell me “broken” cheese. So, I settled for a sliver of the younger Bitto 2015. It was wrapped up in paper-lined foil, emblazoned with the sunny Peck logo (look left), which I imagine is factored into the price of the cheese?!

ctmy99-bitto 2015When I unwrapped the Bitto later that evening, I found a sweaty, Parmagiano-like texture. It was a tad disappointing that after all the build-up, the cheese itself was ultimately undistinguished. It tasted like “cheese”, but did not have any particular flavor that made my taste buds come alive in rapturous song.

Perhaps it should always be melted atop a pizza with porcini mushrooms? Or maybe I need to channel my sassy inner New Yorker and be more insistent that Peck’s cheese counter give me what I want? Whatever it takes, I’ll keep trying and hopefully one day, I will sample the historic Bitto and come to fully understand why it is so admired.

Where am I off to next? Über die Alpen!


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