Chatting Food Deputy Editor Amanda David tests her Parmesan-tasting skills and enjoys a post-lockdown return to Michelin-starred dining as part of the #40chefs40months celebration of Parmigiano Reggiano at Da Terra.
I was this many years old when I found out that, in the same way that only wine from the specific region in France can be called champagne, Parmigiano Reggiano has PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) status; this means that only around 300 dairies in the agreed region of Italy produce the world's supply of genuine Parmesan.
In another similarity to wine, the qualities of authentic Parmesan develop as it matures; to celebrate this, 40 chefs from around the world have created dishes to showcase the umami bomb that is 40 month Parmigiano Reggiano.
This event, organised in partnership with JRE (an international networking organisation supporting young chefs sharing skills and promoting gourmet cuisine) was held at two Michelin starred restaurant Da Terra, where chef-owner Rafael Cagali had created a five-course tasting menu showcasing the different characteristics of the cheese as it matures. Our table had a great view of the unexpectedly small open kitchen; somehow seven or eight chefs managed to navigate it and each other with perfect ease.
We started the evening with a cheese tasting, comparing different ages of Parmesan from 18 to 48 months. The cheese needs to be at least twelve months old before it can even be called Parmesan; the younger cheeses are generally firmer and lighter in colour, becoming more crumbly and crystalline as they age. The intense and complex 40 month plus Parmesan would be a great addition to a cheeseboard, something I hadn't really considered before.
First to appear were bite-sized Parmesan Doughnuts topped with grated black truffle and more Parmesan. This is my weakness (well, one of them). I would follow the scent of truffle, Pied Piper-like, with barely a backwards glance so this little amuse-bouche was a very welcome surprise. If I could buy these in a box of twelve like Krispy Kremes my happiness would be complete.
Our first course was Panzanella Salad: Datterini Tomatoes, Basil and Stracciatella, paired with a glass of bright and citrussy Le Clos De La Meslerie, Vouvray 2017 by our knowledgeable and super-cool sommelier Alvin Luk. A delicious tomato consommé topped with straciatella, a 24 month Parmesan tuile, delicately pretty micro herbs and edible flowers; it was such a work of art that it seemed a shame to eat it (but we did).
Next were Parmesan Dumplings made with the 18 month Parmesan, served with a Chicken & Sunflower Seed Broth and matched with a light, spicy Costa Toscana, Unlitro di Ampeleia 2020. The broth was poured at the table by Da Terra chef and co-owner Rafael Cagali, a lovely personal touch that gave us a chance to chat to him about the menu. The dumplings had an unusually light, smooth texture, balanced precisely by the other textural elements of the dish.
This was served with grilled sourdough bread and three butters - salted, pink peppercorn and olive oil - simply shaped and at the perfect temperature and consistency for spreading. The presentation of every dish was exquisite and showcased the meticulous planning and consideration that has clearly gone into every single aspect of the dining experience. This is the level of passion and attention to detail that gets you two Michelin stars.
Next, a Raviolo with Confit Duck, a delicious, slightly lemony 30 month Parmesan Whey Sauce & Watercress, paired with a rich, jammy De Stefani, Solèr 2018. The range of technical ability and skill shown in this dish alone was hugely impressive; I wonder how many hours of work, practice and constant revision have gone into that single, perfect raviolo.
This came with home-cured duck ham, almost Iberico-like in its intensity; as suggested by our server I ate one piece alongside a bite of raviolo and one on its own to appreciate its flavour.
Contrasting with the deep richness of the duck, the next dish was Wild Halibut with Moqueca Sauce, Palm Hearts & Farofa using the 48 month Parmesan. Moqueca is a homely Brazilian fish stew, elevated here to provide a rich yet delicately balanced sauce; the chilli component was provided by a little dish of tiny red and green pickled chillies for the diners to add to taste.
This was served with a glass of Les Granges Pâquenesses, La Mamette 2019, a wine with a lovely fresh minerality that paired well with the dish.
The dessert was Strawberries, Jersey Milk & 24 month Parmesan Sablé with a few drops of 40-year balsamic vinegar added at the table by Da Terra Head Chef Mark Tuttiett (ex-Carousel). This was a lovely way to end the meal, the balance again showing an assured and confident lightness of touch.
This final course was served with a Clos Lapeyre, La Magendia de Lapeyre 2017, a dessert wine with notes of spice and honey but a not-too-sweet slightly tropical finish.
Little sweetcorn petit fours and Caipirinha jellies arrived as a final bite before we headed home.
This was my first fine dining experience since lockdown and I had forgotten how wonderful it feels to have a supremely skilled team working almost invisibly but in perfect harmony to anticipate your every culinary need; Charlie Lee, take a particularly deep bow.
Da Terra offers two tasting menus; one long, one slightly less so. There is no menu, you just book, turn up and then the magic happens. I can understand how some may feel a little cautious about this concept, but having just experienced the complete indulgence and relaxation that goes along with it, I urge you to try. It's like opening a pile of presents on your birthday, each one simultaneously a lovely surprise and exactly what you wanted. Also, despite the precision of the cooking, the atmosphere is not remotely stuffy or intimidating. This is perfectly illustrated by the website FAQs; under 'Is there a dress code?', it simply says, 'Comfortable'.
Visit Da Terra's website here
Learn more about Parmigiano Reggiano here
Learn more about JRE here
[Items in this article may have been gifted to Chatting Food. No financial payment has been made to feature in this article, and entries to the feature are made independently by members of the Editorial Team. This page contains affiliate links and we may receive a small commission for purchases]
Deputy Editor, Chatting Food London: Amanda David
Freelance food writer, copywriter and blogger Amanda David is dedicated to sharing news about London’s restaurants, bars, events and general wonderfulness. It’s a tough job but somebody’s got to do it.
She has also just launched a new website, A Cook's Bookshelf, reviewing cookbooks old and new, with side-by-side photographs of recipe illustrations next to her home-cooked version.
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