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Bringing rare cheese from the Alps

By Kathleen Purvis
Kathleen Purvis
Kathleen Purvis is the Food Editor for The Charlotte Observer.

Yes, it is tempting to hate Peter and Marcia McElroy.

He’s 70 and a retired US Airways pilot; she’s 71 and a retired flight attendant. They live outside Monroe. And for a long time before retirement, they had a golden life.

They could fly anywhere. And they did. They once restored a 1965 Land Rover, shipped it to London and spent 14 months driving it to South Africa, hopscotching around continents while working around their flight schedules.

They start stories with details like “we were meeting Marcia’s family in Switzerland on our way to Africa.”

Their search for a getaway house started in New Zealand and ended with a little place high in the Italian Alps above Lake Como. They can’t see George Clooney’s house, but it’s around the corner. Oh, boo hoo for you.

Aw, they’re really nice people. Peter is quick to note that they’ve been blessed.

So how can they redeem themselves? They can’t share their house and its majestic mountain view. But they can share something special with you, Charlotte. They brought you cheese.

It’s called Valtellina Casera Stagionato-Chiuro, but you can call it Chiuro Casera. It’s an award-winning cheese made by only one dairy, with milk from 22 small family farms in the Italian Alps.

And there’s only place in the U.S. where you can get it at the moment – the Morrocroft Harris Teeter, 6701 Morrison Blvd. That would be thanks to the McElroys, who jumped through the considerable number of hoops involved in importing a small, rare cheese into America and getting a store to carry it.

There are other Casera cheeses in America, but not Chiuro.

“The Tiffany of Casera is Chiuro,” says McElroy.

So is it good? Absolutely. It’s a firm, aged cheese with a distinctive nuttiness and a fruity aftertaste. McElroy likes to call it “a cheddar base with a Parmigiano aftertaste.”

It’s dry enough to grate in long strands, but soft enough to eat by the slice, although you definitely want to skip the crackers to enjoy the texture. It’s $19.99 a pound, about what you’d pay at a gourmet market for an aged imported cheese.

Marcia and Peter see part of their mission as educating the public about their cheese and the farmers who make it. On most Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, they’re at the cheese section in the deli from 3 to 7 p.m., handing out samples and talking to people about the cheese.

Many of the farmers in the Valtellina region had relatives who immigrated to America. So it’s a big deal for them to have something they help make end up here.

“For them, it’s a huge source of pride,” McElroy says. “I want this to be successful for them.”

And yes, it gives him a reason to keep making that trip back to that little house high up in the Alps. After all, somebody has to live that life.

“Believe me, we do not take it for granted,” he says. “The day I retired, after all those years, my last flight, I was as enthusiastic as the day I started.”

Join the food conversation at Kathleen Purvis’ blog I’ll Bite, at obsbite.blogspot.com, or follow her on Twitter, @kathleenpurvis.
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