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JACKI LYDEN, HOST:

In Italy tonight, everyone is eating the same thing for dinner.

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LYDEN: In a story of cheese and reclamation, we begin with the man who drew our attention to this great Italian moment, food writer Larry Olmstead just back from a trip.

LARRY OLMSTEAD: Well, it's parmesan night in Italy, and they're trying a new thing where using the power of social media, they're trying to get people all throughout Italy to eat the same meal at the same time, sort of a virtual, national sit-down dinner but in people's own homes and to a lesser extent restaurants.

LYDEN: The reason for all this cheese bliss is a series of earthquakes earlier this year in the parmesan region of Emilia-Romagna. The quakes toppled shelves of that world-famous cheese, which is aged for two years in giant five-story-high warehouses.

OLMSTEAD: Yeah. I mean, of course, when I go in an apartment building, when you go in there, you're just looking up at the roof of this huge warehouse, and it's nothing but cheese as far as the eye can see. And the wheels are always the same size. They're huge and like tires. They weigh 80-something pounds. Several hundred thousand wheels of cheese fell off the shelves during the earthquake. So long story short, a lot of cheese hit the floor.

LYDEN: Tonight, in solidarity with the cheese makers of Parma, Italians are letting their Parmigiano-Reggiano - as they call it - hit the saucepan.

OLMSTEAD: All the good stuff comes from Parma: prosciutto di Parma, which I think everybody loves. A lot of Italy's most famous brands are based there - Barilla pasta, which everybody knows, pasta and sauce, Parmalat, which makes the homemade boxed tomatoes. All of this comes from Parma. They just have a centuries-old tradition of great food. But the key is the cheese, the king of cheese.

LYDEN: So the Italians turn to their king of chefs, Massimo Bottura's restaurant in Modena. Osteria Francescana is one of the world's best. And he designed the recipe on Italian tables tonight, using that delectable and competent cheese. The dish is called cacio e pepe, pasta with cheese and pepper. Chef Massimo Bottura.

MASSIMO BOTTURA: First of all, the name: cacio e pepe. Cacio e pepe is a classic dish from the Roman cuisine that's usually served with pecorino and pasta. But we decide to change and to get cacio e pepe reflect to my territorio, noh?

LYDEN: Larry Olmstead, who just dined at Bottura's restaurant, notes how the chef reinterpreted a classic recipe.

OLMSTEAD: He switched out the pasta for a risotto because northern Italy is rice-based rather than pasta-based, and then he switched the cheese out to a normal, the local Roman cheese or often pecorino. He substituted the Parmigiano-Reggiano to sort of tie the whole country together in this one fairly simple dish.

BOTTURA: For me, it's the iconic cheese of Italian cuisine. I believe in this. In believe in tradition. I believe in quality of the food you eat.

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LYDEN: Of course, even though by now most Italians have finished their dinner and are perhaps sipping a glass of Fernet, I had to give Chef Massimo Bottura's risotto a try. So I invited a couple of Italians over. They came all the way from Rome a little jetlagged.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: (Italian spoken)

PIERO BENETAZZO: (Italian spoken)

LYDEN: Grazie. You know Sylvia Poggioli, NPR's senior European correspondent, who came with her husband Piero Benetazzo. But pretty soon, I let Sylvia take over the kitchen.

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LYDEN: What is the secret in cooking risotto?

POGGIOLI: To constantly stir it. So you can't abandon it, really. It needs constant care.

LYDEN: Ooh, it looks divine. And a meal's not complete without a salute. Let's all toast.

BENETAZZO: Chin-chin.

LYDEN: Viva cacio e pepe

POGGIOLI: Viva.

BENETAZZO: Cacio e pepe.

POGGIOLI: Viva Parmigiano.

LYDEN: Viva Parmigiano - Parmigiano-Reggiano.

(LAUGHTER)

LYDEN: And this is probably the best alternative. If you can't get over to Massimo Bottura's restaurant in Modena tonight, then make your own risotto cacio e pepe.

BOTTURA: It's like a dream, you know? You close your eyes and you smell it, and you travel with your mind.

LYDEN: I'm doing that right now.

(LAUGHTER)

LYDEN: A little American (Italian spoken). We're very, very happy.

BOTTURA: I hope so, I hope so, because, you know, we look at you as an example of democracy, an example of nation. We say thank you to you too.

LYDEN: Well, we say it back. And have a wonderful night.

BOTTURA: Thank you very much. And it's going to be the biggest dinner ever.

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LYDEN: You can see Chef Bottura's risotto from his restaurant, Osteria Francescana, at npr.org.

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LYDEN: Salute. You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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