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Up a Mountain,
Chasing a Cheese

by Marian Burros

UDINE, Italy — It is a simple dish for a complicated part of the world. Frico, they call it: cheese melted in a pan, then allowed to cool into a sheet that cracks into shards under a finger's pressure. Served as the farmers eat it, with potatoes, onions, a bit of smoky bacon, it is called frico del fattore, and it rates as one of the great regional delicacies of a nation that is filled with them. To find it — and the Montasio cheese with which it is made — I set out one warm, cloudless morning to drive from the high plains of this central city in Italy's northeastern corner up into the Dolomites, to the tiny village of Sauris di Sotto.

This is Friuli-Venezia Giulia, a mountainous region set atop the Adriatic Sea in the manner of a bauble at the end of a rod. Bordered by the swampy Veneto to the west, mountainous Austria to the north and the rough turf of Slovenia to the east, it has been a land of passage and invasion for thousands of years. Friuli, in fact, was part of Austria until 1866, as was Venezia Giulia until after World War I.

The Friulians have taken something from all those who have trespassed against them, Celts, Hungarians, Venetians, Hapsburgs, Yugoslavians, Charlemagne, Napoleon and even Attila the Hun. There are several languages here, styles of architecture, types of cuisine. Flavors seldom seen elsewhere in Italy thrive: chocolate, cumin, dill and cinnamon. Its prosciutto is superb, and its wines. But its cheese, Montasio, is nonpareil — nutty, rich and, with 40 percent fat, ideal for melting. Available in America mostly in its semi-aged state ("semistagionato" is the Italian term), it is sold all over this region at various stages of development, from fresco, or young and soft, to stagionato, aged more than 10 months, with the dry and crumbly texture of Parmigiano. In Sauris, I had been told, the frico would be prepared to perfection. More ... Cooking Articles


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