About four years ago, my life was changed forever when a friend of mine bought me a microplane for my birthday. I had recently been to a friend’s house for dinner, where his mother made us penne alla vodka, one of my absolute favorites. Before I had the chance to slam my face into the bowl and shovel it down my throat, Mrs. Friend came around to each of our plates and freshly grated some parmesan cheese onto the top of thecpasta. I was in awe. To me, parmesan cheese was a pale yellowcpowder that came in a big green can with an easy pour spout at the top, not this magical thing of love that coated my pasta like snow. As soon as dinner was over, I went home to inform my parents that our days of cheese in a can were over—we were a real parm family now. However, it wasn’t until a few years later that my friend’s act of true love made it possible for real parm to be a Plovnick refrigerator staple. This tasting is dedicated to that microplane and all the joy that it brought me, with the hopes that somewhere out there, a little boy will read this and see that he is not “strange” or “odd” or “scaring mommy” for wanting his own set of knives for his Bar Mitzvah; he’s unique. Now that things have gotten sufficiently weird, on to the taste test!
Starting off the taste test was BelGioioso. After coming off of a big win in the mozzarella competition a few weeks back, BelGioioso was definitely the one to beat. The first thing I noticed about this cheese was its size. The people over at BelGioioso sure were generous when they were divvying up the wheel into wedges, because this thing was massive. Luckily for me, the extra amount of cheese didn’t affect the price, as the wedge only cost about 50 cents more than its competitors. Just like with their mozzarella, BelGioioso hit this one out of the park. The parmesan had a beautiful complexity to it, starting off with a sweet caramel undertone and evolving into a beautiful nutty flavor reminiscent of a true Italian Parm. With American parmesan cheeses, I often find that nuttiness is replaced with sharpness, which sometimes results in the cheese tasting too much like a sharp cheddar. This parmesan avoided that potential pitfall with grace and elegance. Bravo BelGioioso, bravo!
If you’ve ever read our magazine or been to our website before, you know that we love us some Sartori cheese. Known for their more daring flavors, such as their Chai or Raspberry BellaVitano, Sartori has been making delicious cheeses since 1939. While I was tempted to try a more creative flavor, I opted for their SarVecchio Parmesan to make it a fair fight. The cheese started off with a nice blare of salt on the palate, which was then nudged out of the way by umami notes of soy and honey. However, as the cheese sat longer on my tongue, what started out as a really nice flavor was completely massacred by the taste of cheese gone awry. Having tasted Sartori a few times before, I knew this was an uncharacteristic flavor and was probably the result of having sat in the specialty cheese section of Stop and Shop for far too long. Unfortunately for Sartori, I had vowed at the beginning of this series to judge cheeses solely on what they tasted like that day, rather than on previous experiences I’ve had with them. This, along with the fact that Sartori gave me the least amount of cheese for the largest amount of money, left me with no choice but to knock points off of its score.
Stop & Shop
Next up in the tasting was the Stop & Shop brand cheese. Now, before I begin my inevitable obliteration of the Stop & Shop brand’s version of parmesan, I want to say one thing. While the past few blog posts might seem to say differently, I love Stop & Shop. I do. Stop & Shop brings back memories of going camping with my family, where my parents would let my brother and me pick out any sugary cereal we wanted from the never-ending aisle of multicolored boxes. Also, my father swears by his opinion that Stop & Shop has the best rotisserie chicken of any supermarket around (which, to be honest, I kind of agree with). So, while I could theoretically destroy the Stop and Shop parmesan until it was only a memory, I love S&S too much to do that. So I’ll make this short. It looked like a rotten canine tooth, it smelled like a candied diaper, and it tasted like Ursula the Sea Witch.
Bringing up the rear of the tasting was Stella, a newcomer to Supermarket Showdown. Founded in 1923, Stella specializes in “authentic, old world cheese recipes” ranging from ricotta to pecorino romano. Whereas all the other cheeses had definite good qualities and definite bad qualities, Stella sort of fell in the middle. While the flavor was nice and buttery with a sharp but tame nuttiness, everything about Stella’s cheese was “almost there.” The texture could have been a bit firmer, the taste could have been a bit more complex, and the price could have been a bit lower. All in all, this cheese was yet another good-not-great competitor. Although due to the unforeseen performance of Sartori, Stella found a way to clinch the number two spot.