Yes, that’s how it’s spelt!
With all its ‘qs’ and ‘us’ the word squacquerone looks impossible to pronounce. However, if you are travelling in the Italian region of Emilia-Romagna you need to get your act together and learn how. If not, you’ll be missing out on one of the most delicious things the region has to offer.
How to say it
All together now, skwa-kwe-ROH-nay. That’s right. With the stress on the ROH. Now what are you asking for? A soft, creamy cheese, so runny that it’s almost a thick yoghurt with a slighly sour taste to match.
How is it made?
Squacquerone is , made from cow’s milk in the modern provinces of Ravenna, Forlì-Cesena, Rimini, Bologna, and Ferrara. Pasteurised milk is heated and then curdled with rennet. The curds are allowed to sit under the whey for an hour and a half before being removed, moulded and salted with brine. The cheese matures for four days in a fridge, before being sold and eaten.
How to eat it
The result is a sophisticatedly salty flavour, with sweet milky notes. It spreads easily and so can be eaten on bread. It’s mostly eaten with cold cuts of salumi with tigelle (small round flatbreads) or gnocco fritto (fried pizza dough). It’s also a popular filling for piadina, the Emilia-Romagnan flatbread.
What are its origins?
The origins of this cheese are lost in the mist of time. If local legend is to be believed, it goes back to Roman times. As with many things, however, the first written mention is much more recent.
The Papal Conclave of 1799
From 30 November 1799 until 14 March 1800, 34 cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church were imprisoned on the Isola di San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice. Almost a year earlier, Rome had been invaded by the forces of Napoleon Bonaparte who attempted to depose Pope Pius VI and took him prisoner. He was taken to France where he died on 29 August 1799. Rome being occupied by the French, the cardinals decided to meet in Venice to elect his successor.
The Cardinal and his cheese
All this seems to have proven too much for Cardinal Carlo Bellisomi the Bishop of Cesena in Romagna, who was at one point a favourite in the election. In a letter back home, he complained that he hadn’t yet received the squacquerone cheese he’d asked for. Evidently the good cardinal was missing the taste of home. We know thanks to a letter from his secretary that the cheese arrived on 24 February, two days before the beginning of Lent when cheese would have been off the menu for six weeks. I can imagine the cardinal gorging himself before it was too late. These letters are the first written proof for the existence of squacquerone.
Have you ever tried squacquerone? Where? What did you think?