When NASA gave him the opportunity to bring an ingredient from Italy, Maurizio Cheli had no doubt. And so, in 1996, Parmigiano Reggiano was sent into space together with the first Italian Mission Specialist on board of Space Shuttle Columbia STS-75.
The Emilian astronaut, who comes from Zocca, embarked on a 16-days expedition savouring the famous and unmistakable king of cheeses. “During the training period, NASA scientists pay great attention to astronauts’ nutrition. Non-American astronauts are usually allowed to bring something from their country. I had no hesitation. – said Mr. Cheli – Parmigiano Reggiano reached space diced into small cubes and we soon ran out of it: despite being part of my equipment, it was also eaten by my colleagues” explained the astronaut with amusement.
Since then, Parmigiano Reggiano has remained among the stars, officially becoming part of the diet of astronauts on a mission to the International Space Station. A high altitude record, but it is not the only one. In fact, Mr. Cheli has faced another huge challenge with the fastest cheese in the world, i.e. the ascent of Mount Everest. After years of preparation and waiting, the Emilian astronaut reached the highest peak on Earth on 17th May 2018.
“While I was in space, I had the opportunity to take pic- tures of Mount Everest, and when I saw the pictures I said “Sooner or later I’ll climb it”. It was my long-cherished dream. – told the astronaut – Then, I started training on the Alps two years ago and, during the training phase, I met the guide who then accompanied me”.
What emotions did you experience on this adventure? “The Everest expedition took 47 days. We reached the top at dawn, finding perfect weather conditions. I started to cry. – said Mr. Cheli – Both experiences involve all the senses, you are overwhelmed by emotions. You can see the world from another perspective. To me, it was an out- standing achievement, even though I did absolutely nothing heroic. I am neither the first, nor will I be the last. It was a challenge with myself, air and altitude are my world”.
A venture undertaken with Alpine guide François Cazzanelli and another loyal travel companion. “An Everest expedition shares considerable common ground with a space expedition – explained the astronaut – and Parmigiano cheese was perfect food also on that occasion. It fed me and gave me energy when I reached camp 4, located at 8,000 metres. Besides being delicious, its energy density per kilogram is very high, and it is therefore suitable for such specific environments”.
Keeping your “feet on the ground”, what could be your next adventure? “Perhaps a pilgrim route. I may walk the Italian Via Francigena; – said Mr. Cheli – I am in love with the Great St. Bernard, I climb it by bike every year and I am very interested in doing it”. After outer space and Mount Everest, Mr. Cheli could be the first astronaut to travel the Via Francigena. An extraordinary journey halfway between flavours and tradition, with Parmigiano Reggiano in his backpack.
The article is taken from the latest issue of the official AEVF magazine “Via Francigena”. The magazine, published by Studio Guidotti, can be consulted free of charge online at www.rivistaviafrancigena.it and can be purchased online. Lots of news, information and interviews to read at a slow pace in English, French and Italian.