Transported by the Flavors of Parmesan

The Berkeley Bowl’s shaved Parmesan is something to savor.


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Thin slices of bliss

RICK SAEZ

A millimeter may not seem like a big deal, but when it comes to the thickness of the Berkeley Bowl’s shaved Parmesan, a millimeter goes a long way. Not to dis the grated or the wedge options also available at the indie grocer’s two Berkeley locations (920 Heinz Ave. and 2020 Oregon St.), but the half-pints of paper-thin Parmesan shavings offer the perfect size and shape for one of life’s simplest joys—delicious cheese.

The transparent plastic tubs are practical as a viewing window, enticing shoppers with promises of rectangular gold slivers, but a jewel-studded chalice or silver tray would be a more appropriate vessel for the treasure within. Pop the top. The cow’s milk for the shaved Parmesan comes from Wisconsin; the source for the grated and shredded Parmesan is Marin Sun Farms.

Taste a slice. The density gives the cheese a chew while the flavor balances dry and creamy—never chalky as with some supermarket brands, or, even worse, the cheap dust crappy pizzerias offer in paper packets or cram into clogged glass shakers. Take a pinch, and the subtle flavors overwhelmingly intensify but fail to satiate the need to eat just a few more slices.

On its own, this pleasing Parmesan is a guilty pleasure best eaten direct from the tub beside an open refrigerator door. Atop a Caesar salad, it takes the ubiquitous side dish to the forefront, especially complementary with tangy homemade dressing and plenty of anchovies. Sprinkled generously on baked chicken, eggplant Parmesan, or pasta, the Parmesan’s unexpected gooiness only adds to the creamy taste as fork and knife see how far a millimeter can stretch. It’s easy to dazzle guests by topping off simple homemade gnocchi with sage brown butter with a few pinches.

Today, every ingredient matters, because East Bay residents belong to such a food-loving culture. Culinary techniques, tricks, and tools from around the world can dress up a dish, but the addition of this perfect Parmesan can transform a meal into something more than the sum of ingredients. What chefs choose to put on the plate reflects their dedication to the perfect bite, down to the very last millimeter.

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