Monday, April 27, 2015

Fried Cheese for the Historical Food Fortnightly Challenge 24: Snacky Snackables

Fried Cheese alla Platina, c. 1470s

The Challenge: Snacky Snackables 
April 19 - May 2
Who doesn’t love a snack? Make something meant to be consumed in between meals, on the go, or late at night when you’re scrounging for munchies!

The Recipe: Fried Cheese
I chose a recipe from the first cookbook ever to be published using a printing press, De Honesta Voluptate by Bartolomeo Platina; it first appeared about 1470 in Rome. The version I am using is marked as coming from Venice in 1475. 

There is an interesting description of the book by the author: 

"Platina's Book on Food and Honest Indulgence and Good Health . . . a little work on foods and honest indulgence by the very learned man Platina: Printed in Venice with the work and care of Father Laurentius of Aquila and also Sibyllinus Umber for the distinguished Duke Peter Mocenicus on the Ides of June, 1475.

The recipes in this cookbook were borrowed from Martino of Como, the chef for Cardinal Trevisan. His recipes were written early in the 15th century in manuscript form. The 1475 edition of this work consists of nine books or sections that are each devoted to particular topics, from exercise to "tarrying with a woman" (ha, ha), fish, grains, herbs, spices, nuts, fruits, vegetables, dairy products, meats, game, potages, broths, condiments, torts, and custards.

I chose a recipe from Book 8 for a dish that definitely could be considered a snack-Fried Cheese! I particularly like the advice given at the end of the recipe which instructs the reader to regard this food as unhealthy--classic advice for snack foods!

Fried Cheese
Take pieces of rich cheese, neither quite aged nor quite new and fry them in a pan especially made for this purpose with butter or liquamen. When they begin to be tender, turn them and take them out right away. They should be sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon and eaten while they are still hot. Another Way: Put bread crumbs that have been well toasted on all sides into a pan in rows and spread your morsels of cheese in a layer over them. Put your pan covered with smelled near the hearth. When your cheese melts, sprinkle this with sugar, cinnamon, ginger and eat right away, if you want something that is bad. For it is very difficult to digest and is poor nourishment. It causes obstructions and stones.

Here is some of what Platina Says About Cheese in Italy in his Time:
"Today there are two kinds of cheese in Italy which could contend for pre-eminence: the Marcelonius*, for thus the Tuscans call it, which is made in Tuscany in the month of March; and the Parmesan, as it is called, made on this side of the Alps during the month of May." 

Unfortunately, these along with ricotta, are the only cheeses Platina mentions by name but are all too soft to pan-fry. As a result, I am choosing to use a firm low moisture full fat mozzarella for this recipe, as the inclusion of ricotta cheese would indicate that mozzarella was also made (ricotta was made from the residual whey after the mozzarella was made).

*This cheese is Marzolino which is a very special pecorino (sheep's milk cheese) production made with milk from selected pastures grazed only during the month of March.

Date/Year and Region

How Did You Make It

  • The recipes does not specify how thick to cut the pieces of cheese for frying. Therefore, I decided to try three different thickness: a sliver, 1/4 inch, and 1/2 inch. 
  • I heated a generous amount of butter in a frying pan on high heat.
  • I heated the sliver for just a few seconds on each side; the 1/4 inch piece was heated for just about 20 seconds on each side; and, the 1/2 inch piece was heated for about 40 seconds per side.
  • I sprinkled a mixture of cinnamon and sugar on each piece.

Time to Complete
See above--not a long time at all!

Total Cost
About $4 for the cheese.

How Successful Was It?
They all tasted good; however, the sliver crisped up the most and was therefore nice and crunchy. The others started to melt before they actually crippled up. Therefore, I recommend using slivers. The fried cheese tastes better than it looks!

How Accurate Is It?
I followed the intention of the recipe but had to experiment a bit. 

Reference Regarding Platina
Ken Albala, Food: A Cultural Culinary History for the Great Courses, 2013.

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