Pitt Italian Club gets cheesy at 8th annual Italian Cheese Night


Hannah Heisler | Staff Photographer

Pitt Italian Club hosted its eighth annual Italian Cheese Night on Wednesday in the O’Hara Student Center Ballroom.

By Elizabeth Donnelly, Staff Writer

Listening to classical opera while eating fresh Italian cheeses is not how many students picture spending a typical weekday night, but for the 139 students who attended the Italian Club’s cheese night, this was an exciting opportunity that only presents itself once per year.

Pitt Italian Club hosted its eighth annual Italian Cheese Night on Wednesday in the O’Hara Student Center Ballroom. This sold-out event featured 15 different Italian cheeses ranging from the traditional Parmigiano-Reggiano to the less commonly known ricotta baked with lemon.

The ballroom was set up with an elegant spread of mountains of different cheeses, with each table featuring a nice plaid tablecloth, trivia worksheets and a cheese fact sheet. The facts on the little cheat sheet highlighted interesting components of the production of different cheeses, as well as the flavor profiles of some of the cheeses featured at the event.

“They made it look a little like what I would expect an Italian house dinner to be — tablecloths, an Italian flag hanging up in the room, the atmosphere of having music playing the whole time,” Nate Spence, a religious studies major, said.

Guests were able to learn about how Brenta Stagionato, which has a mellow, buttery flavor, is made from semi-hard cow’s milk aged for two months and how ricotta baked with lemon, a creamy, rich cheese with lemon flavor, is made from the leftover milk of goats, sheep or water buffalo. The fact sheet also gave insight into the different regions the cheeses came from — something that is important in Italian culture.

Many students appreciated the inclusion of such a diverse variety of traditional Italian cheeses at this event.

“Having actual Italian cheeses here is nice because you can’t usually find that type of cheese in Pittsburgh,” Jacob Scott Kennedy, a junior French and Italian major, said.

Mark D’Alesio — a senior Italian and biology double-major and Italian Club president — agreed with Kennedy’s statement and also shared his excitement about the annual event.

“The reason that we’re excited about using cheese is because there’s such a great variety, specifically in Italy, because of Italy’s climate differences and cultural differences along the peninsula,” D’Alesio said. “This kind of theme is very intrinsic to Italian culture, too, because Italy is very diverse in their culture. It’s a small country, but someone from the North is very, very different in their customs than someone from the South. So to kind of have the cheese represent these differences in customs gives an idea of Italy’s past.”

Shortly after the guests began to taste the cheeses, there was a performance by opera singer Marco Fiorante, who was born in the city of Cellino San Marco in Italy. The Italian Club was able to find and book Fiorante because he is currently married to a former president of the club. Fiorante began to formally study opera at the age of 14, and he graduated from the Conservatorio Tito Schipa in 2012.

He impressed the crowd with his impressive and forceful voice, singing traditional Italian opera songs and some Italian-American opera songs — many of which were well-known by the audience. A crowd-favorite was the popular song “That’s Amore,” which many audience members sang along to. The opera performance was the Italian Club’s way of connecting the culture of food with the culture of art.

“Our main initiative is to expose Italian culture to the Pitt community and to have them engage with it in any way we see possible. We have a very genuine love for everything that is Italian and we just want to share that with everybody else,” D’Alesio said.

After Fiorante’s performance, guests continued to sample the different cheeses and a trivia raffle ensued. The raffle was sponsored by Istituto Mondo Italiano, an Italian organization that offers language programs, art exhibits, cooking lessons and more.

The trivia worksheets on each table were available for the guests to fill out, and the person with the most correct answers won the raffle. The winner received a handcrafted Italian cheese knife set from Istituto Mondo Italiano.

The club hosted its annual cheese night using funding from the National Italian American Foundation, as well as from the Student Government Board and the OCC mini grant, which allowed the program to be free to Pitt students.

“We don’t want to exclude anyone — that’s not the point of it. The point is that we’re sharing a culture, so to make it cost money would just be counterintuitive,” D’Alesio said.

Senior psychology major Theresa Campisano enjoyed the event as an overall celebration of Italian culture.

“I really enjoyed it. It was nice tasting the different cheeses and it was very interactive with the music and the people,” Campisano said. “I liked all of it — with the food, the trivia, the music. I would most definitely come back to this event.”