Monday, March 1, 2010

Thomas Jefferson Ponders Parmesan

Stopping by the Italian village of Rozzano in the spring of 1787, Thomas Jefferson happened upon a farmhouse where parmesan cheese was produced. America's future president was captivated by the process and described it in painstaking detail in his journal.

Jefferson wrote that the milk used to make parmesan was "scummed" and then placed in a large copper kettle. After four hours in the kettle, he wrote, "the whey begins to separate" and a small portion of saffron is used to "give colour" to the cheese. Then it is heated "by a quick fire," wrote Jefferson, until the curd hardens and separates.

Jefferson used nearly 500 words to record just about every detail of parmesan making -- from the amount of salt that was added to the precise number of days it took the cheese to "ripen."

(Note: Jefferson's culinary observations during his travels to Europe during the 1780s are contained in this book, edited by Anthony Brandt.)

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