'Parmigiano-Belarussiano' and other secrets of Russian chefs under food ban

Wed Sep 10, 2014 4:22pm EDT
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By Elizabeth Piper

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Facing a ban on Italian parmesan cheese, chefs in Moscow have discovered a new source for fine Parmigiano-Reggiano: Belarus.

No sooner had Moscow banned dairy, meat, vegetables and fruit from most Western countries in response to sanctions over Ukraine, than Belarus, a former Soviet republic better known for black bread and potato pancakes, became a "producer" of top-quality cheese.

Once upon a time, the black marketeers of the former Soviet Union were known for using fake labels to pass off dodgy local products as expensive imports. Now it is the other way around.

Two chefs at Moscow restaurants described buying genuine Parmigiano-Reggiano, produced only in a few northern Italian provinces. It came in original Italian packaging, stuck with crude stickers saying "made in Belarus".

Igor Bukharov, president of the federation of restaurateurs and hoteliers, said he was surprised to see a sign outside a restaurant which said simply "Parmesan" and gave a phone number.

The ban on most Western food imports has been hard to swallow for those who run the pizza joints, sushi bars and French-style brasseries that have opened up across Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union, especially in the capital Moscow.

Chefs are searching for new suppliers, buying delicacies from smugglers, rewriting recipes and overhauling menus.

"The question for a chef is to take what he can, and as quickly as possible redo everything," said Bukharov, who is a co-owner of Nostalgie, an upscale restaurant serving gourmet versions of traditional Russian dishes.   Continued...

A waitress serves pizza at a restaurant in Moscow, September 10, 2014.   REUTERS/Maxim Zmeyev