So, one cold day in München, I spent hours walking in -15ºC with shaken hands and lips through various cheese stores with such strong determination to buy a good chunk parmigiano reggiano reminiscent of the one an Italian friend brought for me from his hometown. Speaking in broken German and English, I upset many shop owners as I said “no, not what I was looking for”. Most of them had only one kind of parmigiano, obviously thinking they had selected the best. And I’m sure they did; but it just does not have the aroma or dryness I was yearning for, as I dreamed of that 2 kilogram chunk of cheese my friend got me. They must have thought who was this silly kid to judge their cheese!
Finally, as my fingers, despite being nestled under the layers of wool and leather, started to lose its sensitivity, I found a cute little shop in Viktualienmarkt, probably just 1.5 by 4 meters with a big, old man standing inside. It was called Tölzer Kasladen
“Ich suche win Parmigiano,” I said. He pointed to the only one he has at the little corner of his refrigerated shelf. The label told me it has been aged for 36 months. I asked to taste and he brought over a 300gr. piece to cut for me to try. The aroma of aldehydes and butyrate’s bursted in my mouth. Tiny, gritty salt crystals broke between my teeth, a texture that took me directly back to my love at first bite of this cheese that I’ve grown to love over the years.
“How much you like? I can cut smaller piece for you,” the shop owner said. I smiled and said, “No, I want a bigger one.” He brought over the next piece weighing 500gr.; I looked back to the shelf and pointed at the last piece: “that one!”. It was just over a kilogram. He raised his eyebrows with surprise, before taking the piece down to his cutting board. As he was vacuum sealing it for me, I saw certificates hanging on his wall. One was from the France’s Ministry of Agriculture, certifying him as “Cheese Ambassador” (if my ability to decipher french was correct).
I carried the chunk of cheese back to my friend’s apartment where I was staying. I probably had a smile on my face the whole way back – and I didn’t notice it was -15ºC anymore…
That evening, I left my friend’s apartment to stay at a hotel in town for another two nights. I carefully wrapped it in thick layers of paper so to keep it safe from the freezing weather. But the journey of this cheese did not stop there. I had to fly it back to Bangkok. But hours just before departure, I learned that I need to fly to Chiang Mai right after I land. That could be a problem. I’d be driving around the province for three days! So, on the plane, the THAI flight attendants were kind enough to sympathize with me and let me put that huge piece of cheese in their galley refrigerator. I received it back, still as pretty as when we first met, after I landed. I rushed it with me to domestic check-in and away we go again on another flight.
Of course, the first thing I did when I entered my hotel room in Chiang Mai was to put my baby in the fridge. The next morning, I rushed out to the mountainous region of Chiang Dao for my meetings. After a stressful day, I was about to fall asleep at the small cabin in the mountain when I suddenly got up with my eyes wide open and shouted out loud: “F*UCK! THE CHEESE!!”
I called the hotel right away, but it wasn’t the only time I had to call them. In order:
me: “Hi, I stayed at room 603 last night. I think I left my cheese in there. Can you please check?”
hotel staff: “Sorry sir, the housekeepers are gone, can you please call back tomorrow?”
call#2 (7am – yes, I was that worried I could hardly sleep)
me: “Hi, I’m calling back about the cheese I left in the fridge in 603. Can you ask the housekeepers if it was in there?”
hotel staff, after a minute: “No, sir, there’s nothing from that room. There are only two house keepers there”
I tried to go back to sleep with difficulty, telling myself the housekeepers probably threw it away because they couldn’t tell what it was.
Call#3 (11am – after realizing, “damn, that cheese is huge, and nicely packed, they must keep it!)
me: “Hi, I’m calling again about the cheese. you know, it was really hard for me to get that cheese. I got it from Europe. It’s really big, I’m sure the housekeepers did not throw it away. Have you asked both housekeepers?”
hotel staff: “yes I did. There was nothing.”
me: “Can you please ask again. It’s a big cheese vacuum packed and wrapped in paper. Can you please call me back when you find out?”
hotel staff: “Oh, I can’t, your number doesn’t show on the phone… call us back in 10 minutes”
at this point I realized that this guy probably did not do anything much to help me. I mean… “sorry your number doesn’t show? Ask for my number, maybe?
me: “Hi, about the cheese?”
hotel staff: “No, sir, there’s nothing. Our housekeepers usually keep everything for a week but there was nothing”
I was sad. Very sad. I kept telling myself it must have been disposed by the innocent housekeeper. I moved on.
Driving back to town that evening, somehow, that last sentence from the hotel staff struck me a bit. I decided to drop by the hotel. By chance, as I approached the front desk, the hotel owner appeared from the back – she was never there ever. I decided to tell her my life (well, the cheese’s) life story – how hard it was to find, how old it it, how expensive it is, how far it had travelled – to gain her sympathy, and it really worked. She went to the back, and after a few minutes, the front desk phone rang. Another girl picked it up and muttered “found it?” I was like, are you talking about my cheese? Are you talking about my cheese!?”
The girl smiled at me and said, yes, they found it. The housekeepers didn’t know what it was.
I almost cried. Seriously. But was also super happy to have that cheese back. So happy I had to start blogging again after god knows how long! (just look at the date of my previous post!)
Well, the story hasn’t ended, really, as now I’m at the fourth hotel in Chiang Mai. It’s resting comfortably in the little fridge in my room. I hope it’ll make it back with me to Bangkok in 4 days – which will include probably another two hotels and several hours of driving…
And if it does make it back, prepare for a nice food blog next, featuring this well-travelled Parmigiano-Reggiano!