Thursday, August 11, 2016

Parmesan Ice Cream: I am Not Kidding You

"Wedge" of Parmesan Ice Cream Topped with Blackberry Ginger
Balsamic Vinegar and Basil Leaves

The Recipe
This recipe is from Frederick Nutt's 1807 cookbook, The Complete Confectioner (London):

About Ice Cream
Recipes for ice cream date back to the Italy during the sixteenth century. In an era where refrigeration was non-existant, the earliest recipes for ice cream included the amounts of snow or ice needed to complete the task of freezing the cream. An early form of an ice cream maker was called a sorbetiere and was essentially just a copper cylinder with a lid that was plunged into a barrel of ice and salt. The  confectioner handling the sorbetiere had to turn the contraption in the ice for a long time, about 45 minutes. Additionally, the tricky part of using a sorbetiere is that the cream needs to be stirred and scraped down every few minutes. Removing the lid and doing this without getting the salty ice crystals inside is indeed tricky. The historic site where I am food historian, the c. 1801 Riversdale House Museum in Riverdale Park, Maryland has a reproduction sorbetiere which I have used so I have had first hand experience with this demanding process. 

Here is the sorbetiere at Riversdale. The photos were taken in the 1830s dependency kitchen there where monthly open hearth cooking demonstrations are held. 

Photos courtesy of Riversdale House Museum

While making ice cream was a labor and time-consuming affair in the days before electricity and refrigeration, people who could afford it loved to eat it. They loved the visual appeal of ice creams dyed different colors, and they like their ice creams to come in a variety of flavors. Many historic ice creams would suit modern palates, such as those made from a number of different fruits, cinnamon, orgeat (sweet almonds),  coffee, and chocolate. However, they also enjoyed making interesting flavors such as artichoke, brown bread, chestnut, and noyau (apricot kernels). Here are two other  interesting 19th century recipes for ice cream from the 1827 cookbook by William Alexis Jarrin called The Italian Confectioner (London):

About Parmesan Cheese Ice Cream
While a flavor such as tea that was once popular but fell out of fashion for centuries, can now be found again in grocery stores and in shops, another flavor, Parmesan Cheese, has not yet been revived. This recipe has always intrigued me, and I was thrilled to finally make it. The verdict is that it is surprisingly good for having such a dubious ingredient flavoring it. I found it to pair quite well with fruit flavored balsamic vinegar and basil. I highly recommend trying it!

About Parmesan Cheese
Parmesan  or Parmasan are anglicized versions of the Italian name Parmigiano. The name simply implies that the cheese comes from the Italian city of Parma which lies in the northern Italian region of Emilia -Romagna, an area known for its high quality cheese but also for its luscious prosciutto di parma, among other culinary delights. 

Parmesan cheese actually belongs to the grana family of cheeses. Grana cheeses are all made from cow's milk cheese, and they are hard and meant to be grated. The term grana itself refers to the grainy texture of these cheeses. 

The Grana Family of Cheeses Include These Popular Names:
  • Grana Parmigiano Reggiano
  • Grana Bagozzo
  • Grana Lodigiano
  • Grana Padano
  • Grana Paicentino

Parmesan Cheese in Early Maryland

While I cannot pinpoint an exact date that parmesan cheese started being imported into Maryland, I have found evidence that it pre-dates the 1807 date for the Nutt recipe for Parmesan Cheese Ice Cream. Here is an advertisement for it in the 25 February 1804 edition of the Baltimore newspaper called, The American and Commercial Daily Advertiser:

About the Cheese Mould Engraving
The illustration of the cheese-shaped mould I placed above Nutt's recipe is not from the Nutt cookbook. It is from the Encyclopaedia, or a Systematic Dictionary of the Sciences, Arts, and Crafts which was a general encyclopedia that was published in France  over the course of many years, from 1751 to 1772. It was edited by Denis Diderot. The Encyclopédie was actually a  French translation of an earlier English work, Ephraim Chamber's Cyclopedia, or the Universal Dictionary of Arts and Sciences published in London in 1728.  Though there is no suggestion in the recipe to mould the parmesan cheese ice cream in this type of mould, it is a perfect match for it and the inspiration for the staging of my parmesan cheese ice cream for this post.

Parmesan Ice Cream: Modern Recipe Adaptation


  • 1/2 Cup Sugar
  • 1/2 Cup Water
  • 3 Large Egg
  • 1 Cup Heavy Cream
  • 1/2 Cup Parmesan Cheese, Grated Finely


Step 1: Making the Custard
  • Prepping the Ice Cream Maker:
    • Follow Ice Cream Maker Manufacturer's guidelines for freezing the bowl.
  • Make the simple syrup: 
    • In a saucepan, whisk together the sugar and water and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer for about 5 minutes, or until it measures about 1/2 cup. 
  • Make the Ice Cream Custard:
    • Whisk together the eggs in a large bowl and set aside.
    • In a large saucepan, whisk together the cream and 1/2 cup of the simple syrup; heat over medium-high heat until the temperature reaches 175º F.
    • Temper the Eggs: Add about 1/4 cup of the hot mixture to the eggs and stir. Add the eggs to the hot cream in the saucepan and whisk.
    • Return the custard to the stove and cook on low heat for a few minutes, until the custard reaches about 160º F and coats the back of a spoon.
    • Add the grated cheese.
    • Allow the mixture to cool in the refrigerator for several hours or even overnight. 
Step 2: Finishing the Ice Cream
    • Follow Ice Cream Maker Manufacturer's directions to make the ice cream.
    • Mould the ice cream in a round bowl or container.
    • Remove the ice cream from the mould by inserting it in a tub of hot water.
    • Cut the ice cream into cheese-shaped wedges. Garnish with fruit-flavored balsamic vinegar and basil leaves.
  • Davidson, Alan. The Penguin Companion to Food (New York, 2002)
  • Smith, Andrew. The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America, 2nd edition (Oxford, 2013)

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