Cheese!Of!The!Day!: Toma del Maccagno

The Cheese!Of!The!Day! adventures started on Tuesday. And before anyone criticizes me for too much cheese and not enough sport, bear these facts in mind:

1) There are no sports going on yet in this city. At least no Olympic sports.
2) My boss has been promising readers that this blog will be unique, and I'm gonna predict that fewer than 20 percent of Olympic blogs offer much of anything in the way of cheese insights.

So anyhow, I went to what was described to me as the best cheese shop in Turin: "La Baita de Formagg," which we'll loosely translate as "The Alpine Hut of Cheese." It sings, doesn't it?

The shop is in downtown Turin, in the middle of the fashionable shopping district. I was joined in this adventure by my roommate, Les Carpenter. (Read his fantastic story about local D.C. boxers here.)

Les's Italian name is Lezino, according to Mike Wise, who has given each of us Italian nicknames. Sort of like a baptism situation. Some of the names are truly inspired; Amy Shipley, who will be covering figure skating among other things, is "Amino Acidico."

Lezino is a big fan of obscure public transportation, so we hopped on an orange trolley that stops every 20 feet between the media center (in Turin's industrial South) and downtown (where the medal plaza is located). We stumbled upon the Today Show's set, which was surrounded by more police than we had seen anywhere else in Turin. By the time we found the cheese shop it was about 1 p.m., so naturally, the shop was shuttered. (As has often been written in the lead up to these games, all of Italy closes for lunch, which lasts from about 10 a.m. until about 4 p.m., at which point you start making your dinner plans.)

Anyhow, Lezino eventually took off to do some work and I went cheese shopping alone.

(First, though, I checked out the neighborhood, which included tons of boutiques. One shop, two doors down from cheese heaven, was filled with classy men's clothes. There was a poster in the window that said "Pimpin' Ho' Sale Since 1969." I stared at it for about 50 minutes. I have pictures.)

My cheese guides turned out to be Teresa and Angela, who work at the shop and speak about as much English as I speak Italian. At least I know "capra" (goat) and "pecora" (sheep) and "mucca" (cow), which helps. And they dug up an Italian-English dictionary from somewhere in the shop. They told me, largely through pantomime, that an American television station had just stopped by to take footage of their shop. Competition on the cheese beat! I gave them an orange Washington Post pen, and tried to explain that I was working on a blog about sports and cheese. Not sure that translated very well. Anyhow, we picked out a few cheeses and I promised them I'd be back.

Cheese one: Toma del Maccagno, a raw (unpasteurized) cow's milk cheese from the Piedmont, which is where we are. I had asked Teresa for some local recommendations, and this was her favorite. Toma is a generic name for a variety of Alpine Italian cheeses; some of these are certainly available in metropolitan Washington, although I can't swear I've ever seen Maccagno. The milk in this variety is apparently filtered through ferns, lichens and nettles and has a quite grassy flavor. It smells deeply of the earth.

All we had in the office were some Ritz crackers, but we do not eat gourmet Italian cheese with Ritz crackers, so we waited for some crusty bread to be procured. The cheese, of course, was served at room temperature, making it very creamy and almost spreadable. A disturbingly wide variety of opinions follows. (And seriously, go ahead and try to find out what the New York Times sports staff thinks about Alpine Italian cheeses. I'll wait.)

Style writer Libby Copeland: Not my favorite. Too bitter. It's one-dimensional.
Office director Jill Grisco: I mean, I think it's nice. I'm not over the moon with it. I'm thinking you could serve it with pears. Pears and maybe hazelnuts, and you could do a nice crisp Gavi with it. (Note: To keep from getting fired, I will not now or in the future mention any nice crisp Gavis that we might or might not be pairing with our cheeses, in, or especially out, of our office.)
Figure skating expert Amy Shipley: Yummy. Rich and creamy.
Olympics guru Tracee Hamilton: It's a little bland. It doesn't have any personality.
Brilliant writer Liz Clarke (who is the most relentlessly positive person in the world): Oh, I loved it. I loved it. I loved it.
Mike Wise: If dirty socks are your thing, bring it on. It reminds me of my father's aged cheddar, circa 1972. He bought it in '64. I'm serious, he would hold on to cheese forever. He felt like the mold could be cut off at any time. I'm not a connoisseur, but I'll take aged Vermont cheddar over stinky Italian any time.

Incidentally, if people want to make suggestions for the Cheese!Of!The!Day!, ask for further cheese advice or recommend other Turin cheese shops, bring it on.

By Dan Steinberg |  February 9, 2006; 12:53 PM ET
Previous: Ronaldinho | Next: The Mike Wise Chronicles

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I haven't seen GW play this season, but from the clips and all the talk I've heard, they're for real! I'm a Tarheel fan from way back and a certified cheese freak-any suggestions on a pairing for the game against B.C. on Sunday? After all, the folks in the Dean Dome have long been accused of being the "wine and cheese crowd!" I'm also banking on the return of "The Herminator" to Olympic Alpine glory- maybe with a really stinky fondue!

Posted by: quinn | February 9, 2006 10:45 PM

Hey Dan -
I love your little quib about Americans wearing running shoes in Italy. When I studied abroad four years ago, I tossed mine to blend in with the natives. I learned to walk around in 4-inch heels that summer, and scored a pair of old school Pumas and Adidas to appease my Italian cousins. They gave me fashion, and when I returned to the sates, I gave them bi-yearly care packages of all things America: Levi's blue jeans.

I look forward to reading your notes from Turino. Italy is a wonderful place - Enjoy it!

Posted by: DeAnna | February 13, 2006 02:11 PM

Toma del Maccagno grassy flavour??? Have you smoked it???

Posted by: Angela from Baita | February 22, 2006 04:16 PM

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