Nov 112011
 

The taunting did not last long.  I found myself back at Caffe Calabria Saturday evening trying their pizza.  I don’t know if it was because it had been over a year since I sunk my teeth into true Neapolitan pizza or if it was just because I really, really wanted the food to be sort of close to authentic but I truly enjoyed my dinner.  I wasn’t necessarily transported back to Naples but I was very satisfied.  Caffe Calabria is set up to give the feeling of alfresco dining at a cafe in Italy.  We joked that if they were trying to mimic Naples they missed adding the cigarette butts and trash (which would not go over well in San Diego).

We started with a couple antipasti.  I was excited to see they had one of my favorites…bresaola (see “A Sentimental Wine For A Sentimental Night” – Mar 26, 2010).  I’ve tasted renditions of this in Little Italy but everyone else uses filet mignon carpaccio – Caffe Calabria actually serves authentic cured bresaola.

We also tried the Salumi Misti which was a wonderful cross section of meats with a few bonus items thrown in such as olives, fresh figs and Calabrian peppers.

Of course the star of the show was the pizza (almost crazy I’ve waited this long to mention it!).  My husband ordered the “Margherita D.O.C.” (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) adorned with San Marzano tomatoes and mozzarella di bufala.  I ordered the “Rubino” with creme fraiche, speck, caramelized onion, gorgonzola, grana padano, and fresh thyme.  My husband’s pizza was definitely good and, as the designation states, truly authentic.  I can’t say I’ve seen the likes of the “Rubino” in Naples but oh my goodness it was incredibly tasty!  This is the pizza I will probably crave!

Besides quality ingredients the wood fire oven lends to the depth of flavor in these “as advertised” pizzas (“finest Neapolitan pizza in San Diego”). I love the divots and blackened air bubbles which created texture and kept my taste buds dancing. We washed everything down with a bottle of Chianti Superiore and when we ran out kept the momentum going with a Chianti Riserva.  I hope I will find myself back at Caffe Calabria often….possibly regularly.

Aug 182010
 

My husband and I recently celebrated our anniversary.  It is amazing to reflect back on a life that started as a couple, grew into a family and now is in the thick of tag teaming raising a child.  We’ve shared such a full, fun-packed ride.  But this is not a Hallmark card so let’s move on….

I was looking through a MINI Cooper magazine my father gave me when I came across an article on picnics – what foods to take, what wine to drink, etc.  It inspired me to buy a picnic basket and take my husband on a beach picnic to celebrate our many happy years together.  I thought it might be a fun twist to the typical “get dressed up and go to a fancy restaurant” type celebration we usually do.

I searched the internet for the perfect picnic basket.  It had to have wine glasses, real plates (plastic was out),  silverware and have an overall cool look about it.  I was surprised to see so many sites devoted just to picnic baskets but the options became narrower the more I looked.  I ordered one but sent it back for poor quality (the challenges of internet shopping) but then I found a second one that was perfect!

Our date started by going to our wine cellar and selecting a special wine.  We chose a 2004 Brunello di Montalcino from Il Palazzone. This is a winery I stumbled on too late in our Italian adventures to visit  but sent our current landlords there on a recent Italian vacation.  Laura Gray*, the estate manager, gave them the red carpet treatment and our landlords in turn brought this bottle of Brunello back for us!  Il Palazzone is a very small winery producing only 8,000 bottles of wine a year.  Although American owned Laura and her husband, Marco Sassetti, an indigenous Montalcinese live on and run the estate.  After enjoying our bottle, I can assure you the wines of Il Palazzone are exquisite and a perfect reflection of why Brunello di Montalcino is a prestigious DOCG wine worthy to be the center of any special occasion (see “Boots And Brunello In Montalcino”).  Our Brunello was bold, balanced and complex with a beautiful bouquet of dark cherries and plums along with notes of leather.  It was really quite decadent.  We were surprised and sad to see the bottle empty so quickly.

Since my husband is into food almost as much as I am, we decided to include shopping for the picnic as part of the date.  We went to Boney’s Bayside Market – a quaint market that has healthy and gourmet foods all perfectly wrapped up into one.  We spread our blanket on beautiful Coronado Beach and enjoyed our picnic fare as we watched the fog roll in and the dolphins gracefully swim by.  It was one of the best anniversary celebrations yet…and we even got to wear flip-flops!

I encourage you to pack your own picnic and spread out a blanket on the beach or a grassy knoll.  In fact, I’ll give you our menu as a sample to spark your gourmand within.  Don’t forget your wine opener.  Now go out there and have fun!

Menu

2 Demi Baguette (perfect size for the basket)

Crackers

Black Peppered Crusted Brie

5 Year Aged Canadian Sharp Cheddar

English Cotswold

Thin Sliced Proscuitto, Coppa & Genova Salame

Pork & Chicken Liver Mousse With Black Truffles

Seafood Pate

Roasted & Marinated Red Tomatoes

Fresh Sliced Strawberries, Blackberries & Blueberries

Chewy Date Nut Bars

Pellegrino And A Great Bottle of Wine

*To make reservations to visit Il Palazzone in beautiful Montalcino, Italy contact Laura Gray at laura@ilpalazzone.com or Tel. (0039) 0577 846142 and tell her Julie from Deep Red Cellar sent you – I guarantee the red carpet will be rolled out for you too! :)

Nov 122009
 


I knew when I moved to Italy 2 1/2 years ago, one of the things I wanted to do was visit as many regions as I could. For me, one of the more important regions was Emilia-Romagna. It is the region that has the distinguished title of being famous for Parmigiano Reggiano, Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale and Proscuitto di Parma.


We tracked down all three of these delicacies but this story is about just one – the ever enticing Proscuitto di Parma. We visited a plant in a neighboring town of Langhirano. Langhirano is said to be the heart of the Proscuitto di Parma region. Like many of the products in Italy, Proscuitto di Parma has it’s own consortium that regulates the entire process from the precise raising of the pigs, to specific regulations on aging the meat, and everything in between. The plant we visited did not slaughter the pigs but received just the thighs – the only part of the pig used for Proscuitto di Parma.

When the meat first arrives at a plant, it is immediately salted by highly trained masters who have 10+ years of experience (just for salting a thigh!) and placed in a refrigeration holding area for one week. After a week, the salt is brushed off and the thighs are fed into a machine where they are massaged (subliminal message…book a massage). Once adequately massaged, the thighs are salted a second time by the same “salt masters.”

Let me take a moment to point out my amazement at how exceptionally trained every person is for their specific tasks. The tasks all seem simple to the untrained eye but to pass consortium regulations, every single one of these jobs have precisely trained individuals working their specific task for many, many years to be considered masters of their trade.

OK, back to the star of this story……the meat is then hung and put in another refrigeration area to continue the aging process. Once successfully through this aging, the meat is moved to an area where it gets a silver tag designated by the consortium for Proscuitto di Parma. This tag states the month and year the meat was made. In 2007, these tags cost about 18 euro cents a piece. As you can imagine, producers are incredibly dedicated to the art of Proscuitto di Parma production as this particular step can be quite costly.

After the tagging, the Proscuitto di Parma is moved to another location where, again, highly trained professionals apply the protective lard on the exposed meat area. Often, the lard has black pepper in it. One would assume the black pepper would be added to enhance flavor, but in actuality, it is thought that the black pepper keeps the flies away. At this stage, the proscuitto changes from refrigeration aging to climate and humidity controlled aging for the remainder of it’s aging process.

After the lard applied aging segment, a profoundly trained tester comes through to test the meat. Now, this guy essentially uses only his ability to smell to judge whether the meat is aging properly. You’re probably imagining a guy with a rather large nose, right? I don’t know about all of the professional “sniffers” out there, but the guy we saw definitely had a nose that looked like it had it’s own profession. The “sniffer” uses a thin pick made out of horse bone to sniff the meat. Here’s another example of scrupulous attention to detail. Horse bone is specifically chosen because it is very porous and it has the unique ability to take in the smell and then dissipate it very quickly. So, this tester guy goes through and pokes the proscuitto thigh in about 5 places. Each time he pokes the meat, he smells the pick. Then he uses his finger to smear the lard back over the slightly exposed area. If the tester believes the meat is acceptable, it will get branded with a 5 pronged crown that states the month and year of production. The brand is placed so that anyway a butcher slices it, the branding will always show and the consumer will always know they are getting the “real deal.” This branding and the aforementioned silver tag symbolizes that the meat is, in fact, authentic Proscuitto di Parma.

Once it has passed the “sniffer” test, the meat is moved into it’s last climate and humidity controlled room where it finishes out it’s days aging to perfection. When all is said and done, Proscuitto di Parma is aged about 70 days and reduced by about 30% of it’s original size when finished.

I can’t say the process was a glamorous one to see. I mean, after all, it is a meat plant. I can say, the almost finicky attention to detail and the training the experts are required to go through guarantee that if you’re eating Proscuitto di Parma, you’re eating authentic Italy at it’s best!