Fugassa co-o Formaggio

Focaccia col Formaggio

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Preparation info

  • Makes

    1

    focaccia
    • Difficulty

      Medium

Appears in

Recipes from Paradise

By Fred Plotkin

Published 1997

  • About

Here it is: the recipe for what is probably the most addictive food on the planet. Cheese focaccia, the pride of Recco, is indescribably wonderful. The cheese has a slight tang that contrasts nicely with the silky blandness of the crêpe-like bread. This is not thick, crunchy focaccia like all the others, but is a bread of such delicacy that you cannot imagine it until you have tasted it. As you have read, the people of Recco take immense pride in their bread (and all their food), and have established a consortium to protect and defend it. I was trained in making the bread by Titta Moltedo of the Consorzio, and I feel as though I have been inducted into a society of highly privileged members. The words and information I pass along to you are largely his, although I have some observations about the cheese that you use.

In those few circumstances in which I have encountered Focaccia col Formaggio beyond a thirty-kilometer radius of Recco, it almost invariably has contained the wrong cheese. Many food writers with an inaccurate knowledge of Italian as well as Ligurian usage have perpetuated certain misconceptions. Here is the story: There is a delicious, soft, slightly sweet cow’s milk cheese made in Lombardy called Stracchino. It has an edible white rind. This cheese is often eaten by Milanese children at breakfast. However, in Liguria, the word “Stracchino” is a local usage to describe Crescenza, which looks somewhat like the Lombard Stracchino, but is a different cheese. It does not have a rind, and where the Lombard cheese is sweet, Crescenza is tangy. This is the cheese that is to be used in Focaccia col Formaggio, not the sweetish Stracchino.

To further confuse things, much of the Crescenza used in Liguria is now made in Lombardy. One of the most popular brands is called Invernizzina, and that name has also entered Ligurian usage to denote the cheese (much as in North America “Kleenex” has become synonymous with “facial tissue” even though it is only a brand name).

Many brands of Crescenza are now available in North America. This is a recent development. Before that, only Stracchino was sold on this side of the ocean, and even expert cheese sellers occasionally think that Crescenza and Stracchino are the same thing. When you shop for cheese to make this bread, you want either a brand of Crescenza cheese or a cheese called Invernizzina. They are usually sold in little tubs covered with a plastic film. This is a perishable cheese and you should use it immediately. Look at the date stamped on the package for guidance; the younger the cheese, the better the result of the focaccia.

What to do if you cannot find this cheese? My suggestion is to buy either Taleggio or Stracchino. Soften this cheese in a bowl and then stir in either buttermilk or prescinseua to make the result creamy and tangy. Crescenza is not the cheese that was originally used for Focaccia col Formaggio, but it is the one that has taken over in modern times.

In the twelfth century, the Levante coast of Liguria was frequently raided by the Saracens. The people of Recco retreated to the inland hills, taking with them flour and olive oil to survive during the sieges. In the hills lived wild goats who were domesticated, and their milk was turned into cheese. The flour, oil, and water were converted into unleavened crêpe-like bread that was baked together with cheese in improvised outdoor hearths. When the people returned to Recco, they had a new specialty to feast on. At some point in history, cow’s milk cheese replaced goat’s milk cheese. This cow’s milk cheese was called formagetta (“little cheese”), but there are very few people left who make it.

In the early part of the twentieth century, Emanuela Capurro of Recco served Focaccia col Formaggio, using formagetta, in her trattoria. Manuelina (“Little Emanuela”) as she was universally called, drew diners from near and far to sample her specialty. Following World War II, when much of Recco was destroyed, her heirs expanded their restaurant on Recco’s Via Roma, and were among the pioneers of the dish as it is eaten today. The restaurant, called Manuelina, is one of the best in Liguria, offering not only this bread (which most people eat as the first course of their meal), but superb pasta (especially pansôtï) and excellent main courses.

Titta Moltedo tells me that after the war, restaurants became the primary producers of Focaccia col Formaggio, while before it was the bakers. He said that even a few miles from Recco the focaccia is not as good. I tested his assertion many times and, to my surprise, he really was not exaggerating. In Genoa, approximately 12 miles/20 km away, they use less cheese and the crust is thicker.

Titta taught me two methods for making Focaccia col Formaggio. The first is the metodo antico, the one that recalls the way it was made centuries ago in country hearths. This is how the traditional bakers of Recco make it. If you have a wood-burning oven, this would be the way to do it. The metodo moderno, or modern method, is made by bakers who are less classically oriented but it is also suitable for everyday cooks who will bake this bread in their home ovens.

Ingredients

    Method