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Legislator is a cheese wiz

First-year County Legislator Angelo Santabarbara, R-Rotterdam, is known for wearing fine pinstriped suits to meetings and for his successful career as a civil engineer, working on such contemporary projects as the Rotterdam Starbucks, but that doesn't mean Santabarbara has forgotten his family's old world tradition.

At home, he's known as Dad to his two young children, and he's also known for his cooking.

The new legislator and first-generation Italian-American said he does what he can to keep his family's recipe book alive.

"Family is very important to me," said Santabarbara. "If one generation doesn't carry on the tradition, it's lost forever."

Last week, Santabarbara appeared on an episode of "Let's Cook," a popular Schenectady public access show hosted by Delores Scalise, to demonstrate how to make his family's traditional Easter basket cheese.

"Let's Cook" frequently features Italian-style cooking. The show first aired on Wednesday, March 26, and will run throughout the month of April on Channel 16.

Basket cheese forms when rennet, a liquid or powder enzymatic additive, separates fresh cream into cheese curd and whey. After several hours, the whey is drained off and the curd is packed into a basket.

The baskets are refrigerated for several hours, leaving a cheese that Santabarbara said is similar to fresh mozzarella. Santabarbara said the basket cheese is ideal for serving over tomato and basil salad or grated on top of pasta with tomato sauce.

Using an aging process by refrigerating the cheese and adding salt will create a hard cheese more suitable for grating.

"This is something my parents have been doing for generations in the old country," said Santabarbara, whose parents immigrated to America from a small town outside of Naples in the early 1970s. "My father had a small farm with two or three cows, and he would use only fresh milk. That's what makes a big difference."

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