Sunday, December 31, 2006

Cheese on Horseback

A weird cheesy-etymology coincidence happened yesterday. I received Wanda and Giovanna Tornabene's Sicilian Home Cooking for Hanukkah, a great book which couples simple, delicious-sounding recipes with saucy stories from the Tornabene family's matriarch (more on that soon, no doubt). Poking around in the book yesterday, I kept coming across recipes contain the ingredient caciocavallo. I kept thinking it's some cabbagey product only available in Italy, like cavolo nero, but quickly figured out it was cheese.

Then, unrelatedly, I found myself on the website of Alcazar, a Lebanese restaurant in Encino (whose name, incidentally, was the source of another etymology revelation long long ago... ah the geeky memories). There it was on the menu, k'llej kashkaval: kashkaval cheese grilled in pita bread.

First of all, yum. Secondly, the very reason Sicilian cuisine interested me was its connection to the Middle East, and here it was -- obviously these words are related. Thirdly, when we made the cheese map, we had noticed that while most of Mediterranean Europe use a cheese world inherited from the Latin caseus, Italy uses formaggio, relating to the fact that its cheeses are often formed in a mold.

Well, not so with caciocavallo. It apparently means 'cheese on horseback', and clearly the 'cheese' part is a caseus-related word. It's not formed in a mold, but in cheesecloth, in teardrop-shaped pairs. And it's on horseback, either because it hangs on a 'saddle' to dry, or because of how it was originally transported. Cute.

It's funny, I was thinking the other day how I hadn't come across any fun etymology items lately, and one found me.

Happy New Year everyone! Here's to a 2007 filled with peace and cheese! (Unless you're lactose-intolerant, or vegan. In which case, peace and chocolate!)


  1. Though I don't eat the stuff I admit, I am thuroughly fascinated by this cheese discovery. Great work detective!

  2. I myspaced you. Im embarassed.