Tillie loved cheeseburgers. She liked them made in-house, she liked them out. She loved going to McDonald’s, which she did frequently at drive-throughs in the States. She surely would have loved the burgers in McDonald’s new “McItaly” campaign.
Signs behind the kids at the cash registers, where Happy Meals are usually advertised, tell us that McItaly is about Italy: the beef is 100% Italian; the cheese (Asiago) is not only Italian, it’s D.O.P. The artichokes used to make the sauce have an impeccable Italian pedigree. This is McDonald’s Italy doing two kinds of burgers (and a salad) their way. The ads tout “il gusto McDonald’s parla italiano” (The McDonald’s flavor now speaks Italian.)
Other all-Italian McItaly ingredients include: Parmigiano-Reggiano D.O.P., Speck dell’Alto Adige I.G.P, pancetta from the Val Venosta. Three items comprise the menu – the aforementioned burgers, and a salad with Bresaola.
(D.O.P. means “Denominazione di Origine Protetta,” I.G.P. means “Indicazione Geografica Tipica.” This means that any product with either of these labels has gone through codified forms of production; in the case of the former, it’s a European Union thing; the latter, Italian. In short, it’s a mark of quality. Ireland and Great Britain refer to D.O.P. as “Protected Designation of Origin” – perhaps that makes the picture clearer, if not less interesting sounding.)
McItaly was launched in January 2010, a joint initiative between the Italian government and McDonald’s. Festivities kicked off at the McDonald’s in Piazza di Spagna in Rome. Minister of Agriculture Luca Zaita was present, rolled up his shirtsleeves, and served hamburgers while thanking McDonald’s: “We have asked McDonald’s to make us an international trademark that would reach consumers in Paris as in Shanghai.” He referred to it as “[una] grande operazione culturale” (a big cultural operation). The web site (http://www.mcdonalds.it/) shows an American flag with the colors of the Italian (so think green where there’s usually blue). It’s kind of nice thinking that fast-food burgers are a big cultural operation.
The Italian Scallion and I were passing through the train station at Santa Maria Novella in Florence on our way home and were compelled to try this burger. The young girl at the cash register did not seem to understand my request for a “McItaly.” Had to repeat myself three times, practically shrieking by the third. It took a long time for it to arrive, making me think that either there wasn’t much demand for it or that they were taking extra special care, it being 100% Italian. I had high hopes that the cheese would be properly melted.
The white burger box trimmed with flushes of red and green arrived (think flag) with written assurances that “The unmistakable McDonald’s flavor meets the tradition of typical Italian flavors. Let yourself be overwhelmed by this marriage of flavors: it will be a feast for your palate.” The box lists – didn’t we read it once, behind the kids at the cash registers? -- the ingredients: flour from Italian buckwheat, 100% Italian beef (with a meat grinder graphic), 100% Italian lettuce, and smoked bacon from the Val Venosta. It’s got a seal stating “Under the auspices of the Italian Ministry for Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.” (What a strange combination for a ministry, yet they got the requested trademark!) (Equally strange is that the burger we ordered was not the one listed on the box; the one listed on the box sounded kind of tasty, too.)
We devoured the burger on the train, thus becoming the kind of commuter I hate (McDonald’s food does have a distinctive aroma which takes on greater significance in a confined, dingy train car with not-so-great ventilation). The beef was dry. The cheese was unmelted. The lettuce, I assume, was 100% Italian as promised. The artichoke sauce was good. In fact, the combination of ingredients could have worked, and if the cheese had been melted properly, it might have obscured the dryness of the burger. Just make sure that the Asiago is properly melted, the lettuce 100% something, and be generous with the artichoke sauce if/when trying this at home.
Tillie would have devoured it, too.
Cheeseburger with artichoke sauce and lettuce
½ lb. ground beef
2 sesame seed rolls (McItaly uses a different type of roll, slightly more lugubrious)
¼ lb. Asiago (or other Italian melt-able cheese such as fontina or mozzarella), thinly sliced
Jar of artichokes, preferably marinated
2 T. extravirgin olive oil, or more to make the sauce saucier
Handful of Romaine lettuce, chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Make the artichoke sauce by whizzing the artichokes (don't drain their liquid) with the olive oil in a food processor. Heat the broiler (or a non-stick frying pan). Lightly salt and pepper the ground beef, and form into two equal sized patties.
Cook it the way you like them – rare, medium, well-done. Two minutes before taking them off the broiler (or flipping them on the frying pan), put the cheese, neatly divided, on top of each burger. Cover with a lid and watch the clock (do make sure it’s properly melted).
Toast the rolls if you feel like it. Place chopped Romaine on the base of the bun, then the burger, and liberal applications of the artichoke sauce.
Eat at once. If the cheese has melted properly, there really isn't anything left for the dogs.