Today is a special day. It marks a couple of momentous events in our collective history as citizens of this planet. Both of them are relevant to me, and maybe more than one will be relevant to you.

First, today marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Julia Child. Here’s where I could say that she left an indelible mark on my culinary engagement from the time I was a young person, seeing her on Public Television every day when I ran home from school to catch reruns of her program. I’m not going to say that, because it simply isn’t true.

What she did, though, is open up the pathway for acceptance of French cooking techniques into today’s modern kitchen, and bridged the gap from the ’50s model of Campbell’s soup and green bean casserole/church basement cookbooks to recipes that instill pride in both kitchen skills and quality of life. Her recipes and effervescent personality in the kitchen gave life to the housewives stuck at home, injected life into the grocery industry, and opened doors of the curious nature of the home cook who wanted nothing more than to perfect a dish that was outside the realm of what was considered a normal dinner.

Cookbooks, television shows, and countless dinner parties later, her influence can be seen in restaurants as well. Escoffier envisioned the brigade system in restaurants over 100 years ago, but it was the dishes of Julia Child that brought French culinary technique once again to the masses.

She did it with such zest. Her television appearances outside of the French Chef kitchen found her paired with David Letterman, whom she traded barbs with, playfully chiding him for his lack of an adventurous palate when a hamburger was transformed to a tartare au gratin thanks to a faulty heating element. Later in life, she shared a Public Television kitchen with Jacques Pepin, a similarly regarded French chef, and countless glasses of wine. The Julia Child I became engaged and enamored with was one enjoying her later years with glee, keeping a watchful eye over food while sipping on a cabernet. The aspect of a meal prepared for health rather than flavor was not frowned upon, but seen as a noisome bother. The reality of cooking in Julia Child’s kitchen was to use fresh ingredients, and blend flavors, aromas, and fill your kitchen and home with love.


The second event is equally as personal to me. My best friend Andy and his wife (also named Julia), this morning, welcomed their son to the world. There has been nothing more exciting for them in their young marriage than to anticipate the welcome of a child into all of our lives. It has been such a pleasure to see how they’ve grown as a couple from the first time I met her as his special lady, to their engagement, and by standing up at their wedding and promising to foster their relationship and marriage with support and care.

As a gift for their baby shower, I got them a pasta maker. I realize that everyone needs diapers. Everyone needs a stroller. The huge amount of love and support from their respective families, from the look of their registry, looked to have provided most of that for them. I started to think about my relationship with Andy and how food has played a huge part. We’ve known each other since middle school, and cooked with each other for just as long. We had a project in 7th grade geography where we made sushi together, and in high school, we made an instructional video for his French class on how to make crepes.

When I went through culinary school, we lived together. I’d bring home steaks, skate wing, potatoes. Every day, a giant takeout container would come back from my kitchen to our house. We’d experiment together on flavors, pore over recipes and techniques from my cookbooks, and watch cooking shows together. He’d ask questions, I’d try to answer them using what I’d learned at school, and our relationship with food and with each other was strengthened through the medium of cooking.

When we get together now, we always cook. It made sense to me to give the pasta maker as a gift. To use it properly, it takes patience, time, and multiple sets of hands. The finished product is one that you share with your family. Through the process of making pasta, and cooking together, you bring those with whom you work and teach closer together.

The way I phrased it when I picked it out, “Kid’s gotta eat”, may have been a little brusque, but it’s true. I hope that the best gifts I know how to give are ones that can be shared with family. I see that Andy’s great loves are family and cooking. I envision a kitchen filled with giggles, tiny, floured handprints on every surface. And I smile.

Congratulations, Andy and Julia. Happy Birthday, Henry.


The day before, I’d started a no knead bread recipe, as it’s the easiest bread that I can make that doesn’t test my patience. I’d gotten some sunflower seeds from work, and added a little bit of pumpkinseed oil to the mix. The bit of sugar from the oil and seeds, in addition to the perfect bread rising temperature inside the apartment, leavened the bread to more than double size faster than anticipated. Into the oven on the hot day it went, as did a flatbread with caramelized onions and chickpea flour. A little tomato sauce topped the flatbread, and it was set aside for cutting into wedges after cooling.


Another thing I’d started the night before was the dessert. A big hit with everyone, and one again something that requires surprisingly little technical effort, is a profiterole. I made a choux pastry with eggs, flour, water, and butter. Half of it was given the sweet treatment, to be served with cherries reduced in a bottle of Coca Cola. To the other half, I added grated cheddar for savory gougeres. As the time ticked closer to service, I realized that cherries and cream puffs wouldn’t be enough, so I set out with a recipe for a simple semifreddo, semifrozen ice cream. No churning needed.

I didn’t want anything too complex. All I wanted was something that would be light and complimentary. The recipe was simple enough. Whipped Cream, Whipped egg yolks with sugar and vanilla, and whipped egg whites. Fold them together, and freeze in a mold. Slice and serve when set, after about three hours.

Let me pause for a moment to let you in on a couple of key points. I have a hand blender, which works well for 95 percent of the things for which I use it. It purees my sauces, makes smoothies, and whips cream exquisitely. What it positively does not do well is whip egg whites. This is due to a couple factors: 1) Human Error. PROTIP- When you are whipping egg whites, you cannot stop. You cannot add sugar at the wrong moment, or they won’t set. You shouldn’t use a glass bowl, for they don’t have sides that promote the egg whites creeping up the sides as you whip, falling into soft or stiff peaks. You can’t have even a tiny hint of egg yolk in there, or they won’t whip. Did I know any of this before I began?

No. This is why my first attempt failed. This is why I don’t enjoy patisserie. Try again? Okay. This time, (Ugh) by hand.

After looking up the best way to whip egg whites, (use a wire bulb whisk), I cleaned and dried my bowl, and separated five more egg whites into my bowl. I added a splash of white vinegar as recommended, as I didn’t have any cream of tartar lying around. I whipped. Slowly at first, and then gradually with more speed until my arm was about to fall off.

In the kitchen, this is when having a mom around comes in handy.

“Mom, my arm is about to fall off!” I yelped from the kitchen.

“Okay, just let me know when you want to switch,” she replied calmly from the couch, not missing a word in the book.

At this point, about five minutes in, my forearms felt like, to use a comparison of Olympic size, the arms of a tired kayaker. It was starting to be downright unpleasant.

In comes mom to bat cleanup. Why is it that moms can accomplish things with far more accuracy and precision than we can? The difficult things. Like whipping egg whites. Two minutes, and she had it to stiff peaks. We folded in the remainder of the sugar, and then incorporated all our parts together for the resulting semifreddo, which was then put into the freezer.

When the last of our party finally arrived after delays at the airport, my lady, her mom, her aunt, and our traveling companion from Martha’s Vineyard, we were ready with dinner. The bread was still fresh from the oven, the chickpea flatbread had cooled and was dressed with the tomato sauce, the caprese salad was attractively arranged on the service platter, and the soup, finally chilled, was ladled into tiny espresso cups and garnished with sungold tomatoes and a parsley oil float ringing a single leaf of Italian parsley procured from the neighbor’s plant.

Bottles of wine were opened, hugs exchanged, and we were able to finally relax in each other’s company, ready for a fulfilling week of excursions, museums, food, family, and friendships both old and new.

This week has been a whirlwind of activity. I’ve had some great meals, and certainly done some things that have I’ve been personally impressed with in the kitchen. Things in the kitchen come about because of a desire and a need to come up with something that will taste good and also feed a crowd.

As I mentioned in my last post, two mothers came to town this last Wednesday. My mom came down for the day from Madison to Chicago, and in preparation, she called up and asked what she could bring.

“I have some wonderful vegetables from my garden, including three beautiful Cherokee Purple tomatoes that you gave me. I could bring those, and some fresh mozzarella, and some sweet corn, and some…”

The list went on. She ended up bringing down all the above, as well as fresh chard from her garden, which I used in a frittata this morning, some herbs that I made into oils, some beautiful edible nasturtiums, and a lovely little basil plant. The hit, of course, were her tomatoes.

A couple of months ago, through the G.E.E.E. project at Hyde Park Art Center, we picked up a few red solo cup tomato plants, and sent one home with my sister for my mom to transplant in her garden. Planting it in her garden, she recently harvested the first bounty of three gigantic tomatoes from the plant. Where ours have languished in the off and on heat from the summer, her transplants have flourished and provided us with a fresh and delicious caprese salad that we enjoyed on her visit.

As she sliced into the tomatoes, I heard a gasp. I ran over to see if she had cut herself, as she’s used to knives much less sharp than those in my kitchen (her words, not mine). No, it wasn’t that. Looking at the first slice of tomato was a glorious sight. I marveled as slice after slice peeled off from the fruit, and I snacked on the top, sweet and juicy like a tomato should be.

We cooked in the kitchen for a couple hours. She paused to read a little bit, and joined me in shucking a dozen ears of corn that she had brought down from a friend’s local farmstand. The day was hot, in the 90s as it had been all week, and as we had a few hours to kill before the rest of our party came over, I figured I’d have some time to make a chilled sweet corn soup.

Good sweet corn is one of the best things you can have during the summertime. From the first time this season that I had a sweet corn broth this summer on Martha’s Vineyard, I wanted to continue celebrating the simple flavor of the season with little complication.

Rather than boil the corn and serve it on the cob, I sliced the kernels off the cobs, and then simmered the cobs themselves for 45 minutes in water. In a separate pan, I put some onions in to sweat with a bit of salt and pepper, and added a splash or two of white wine to bring out the aromas.

When the cob broth was producing a fragrance of its own, I removed the cobs and threw twelve ears worth of kernels into the pot. After a minute or two, really all the cooking that corn needed, I pureed it, and then strained out the matter directly over the onions.

I checked the clock. About two hours until everyone arrived. Reserving the corn matter for a later dish of fritters, I turned the heat of the large stockpot to high, and did the quick reduction method between two pots. After the giant ball of steam died down from the first transfer, I pureed then strained the now floral broth back into the sizzling saucepan and let it reduce for about twenty minutes until it was ready for a mounting of butter and addition of salt and pepper.

Tasting it when it was warm, I got a sweet, candylike flavor, but I also got the simple flavor of buttered popcorn. I poured it into a vessel to chill and let it sit in the fridge until the remainder of our dining party arrived.

After a day at work yesterday, I stopped by Maxwell Street, Chicago’s outdoor summer street fair. There’s a lot of stuff there that nobody would want- a stand that sells only shoelaces, one guy with an old, rusted out van with a panoply of similarly rusted circular saws and mechanical equipment. You pass a couple stands and do a double take. There are matchbox cars, straw hats, old video games, and a bunch of stuff that you don’t need, but you never knew you wanted until you see it.

I’m guilty of bringing home a couple of Super Nintendo games, and I have also been stopped in my tracks by the barkers who sell cases of vegetables for $5 each. When I’m there, though, there is the inevitable pass by the smokey outdoor food stands at the south end of the market. Running the smokehouse at work yesterday morning, I wasn’t looking at the two barbecue stands, although they smelled fantastic as always, but I was more excited by the stalls selling Tacos and Pupusas.

I had already eaten lunch, (big mistake), but I just stopped to watch what was going down. At Mama Lula’s, there was an older woman, presumably Mama Lula, on the griddle, flipping tortillas and scrambling various fillings with the other hand. On the far side of the stand, there was another matronly employee readying a giant tub of masa for tortillas, and yet another stirring a giant pot of simmering meat filling.

It smelled fantastic. It was warm and inviting. It looked incredible. There were blistering tortillas and pupusas flying over the counter. I didn’t taste anything because I was full, but the handwritten sign, “Tacos 4 for 5”, was more than inviting.

Unless you grew up with this, these weren’t your mother’s tacos. The menu was mostly in Spanish, but in addition to the usual offerings of tacos al pastor (pork), pollo (chicken) and barbacoa (beef), there was a selection of lesser known offerings: tripas (tripe), lengua (tongue), and a few more options that slip my mind. For those who knew, though, it was probably heaven. They wouldn’t have those items if they didn’t have a following.

Food cooked by a mom tastes better.

This week, we have two moms coming to town. My mom is coming in from Madison on Wednesday afternoon, and my lady’s mom, aunt, and family friend are coming in later that evening from the East Coast. The afternoon will bring some cooking alongside my mom, and by dinner time, I hope to have something fabricated that we can all eat and enjoy.

With bellies full, we went back home that evening. Nothing much made our nights more fulfilling than a meal shared by friends and family followed by relaxing on a calm back porch overlooking the water. As the sun set along with the food in our stomachs, we made our way to bed.

The next morning, we went off to Menemsha to make good on our promise of oysters for dinner and/or daily snacks. As the Island has only a few ways to navigate around, we took the wrong road to get there. After driving for fifteen minutes, we made it across the marina from the town, just a short swim, with no way to get the car across. It was literally a stone’s throw away, and we found out upon our return home that there was a sporadic bike ferry across the water, but it was not to be that day.

Instead, we made our way over to the beach, where we kayaked to our hearts’ content, picking up sand dollars and shells on the gigantic sandbar north of the house. Our vessels gently rocked back and forth over the tiny breakers on the bay, and we made our way back to shore in time to leave for lunch at the wharf.

Lobster Traps

We made our way to Menemsha via the correct route, around the pond, up the road, and down the way to the port. Dozens of fishing vessels dotted the piers, lashed to the bulkheads with barrels of Lobster and Jonahs aboard. As we walked the line from one market (Larsen’s) to the other (Menemsha Fish Market), our stomachs began to rumble as we recalled all of our tasty options for lunch. Walking in to MFM, we saw our grail, what we had been hoping for.

We ordered at the window, grabbed the last two ice cold cokes from the fridge, and a few minutes later, five lobster rolls were up in the window. It was a hot day if you weren’t in the water, and we all got the lobster salad rolls, cold, a little bit of mayonnaise, and chopped celery. Taking our catch around to the back of the store, we sat on crates and newly furnished benches over the piers as we watched a fisherman sort the day’s catch.

In one bin, Chicks. In the other, Rocks. (Lobster and Crab)

When we were through, and our appetites were sated, we moseyed over to Larsen’s to view their fish selection. The case was empty, but the woman in charge was busy bringing out pans of seafood for our perusal. The first pan in was two glistening Monkfish tails. I didn’t need to see any more.

“Can I get those two tails?”

“Both of them?”


In my previous fishmongering incarnation, the monkfish tails I saw were typically around 1/2 to 3/4 pound each. While this is good for portion size, seeing these larger fillets made me realize that flying through the smaller catch was far from sustainable. Currently, at work, they’ve made a push not to sell unsustainable fish, including Monk.

Although on principle I tend to agree with the promotion of sustainable fisheries, purchasing thousands of pounds of undersized fish for retail sale is much different than purchasing something directly off a boat that is fully mature and with minimal amount of bycatch.  Monkfish for dinner it would be.

On top of that, I made good on my promise of oysters, purchasing a dozen and a half of local Katamas for anytime eating. I had brought my oyster knife cross country along with my pin boning tweezers, just in case we came a cross any seafood that needed a quick fabricating. Lastly, we got three pounds of scallops to round out the haul, just because we could.

We got back to the house close to dinner time to find two more guests had arrived for the weekend, but it had been a long day of exertion and high temperature for those of us who had already been hanging around. My lady’s mom, ever the intrepid explorer and activity planner, was felled with a bout of exhaustion from all the activity, and as we were prepping the menu for dinner, she retired to the bed for some much needed rest, leaving me and a crew of  hungry vacationers with a kitchen full of food, a range full of burners, and a collective of rapidly growing appetites.

The kitchen instantly transformed into a brigade: Two on the salad, One firing up the grill, and me on the range. We still had two bags of salad greens from the Connecticut homestead, which were thoroughly washed and dried, and incorporated with fresh tomatoes and some pickled red onions from a meal a few days prior. The grill was set up, and after tossing some scapes and rapini in olive oil, salt and pepper, we threw those on to get a quick cook.

Moving them over to the hot zone, the Monkfish was next. I haven’t been known to cook Monkfish often, as it hasn’t appeared in stores when I’ve been looking, but I had marinated it with cumin, chili powder, coriander, salt, pepper, and oil when we got back, and after about an hour, it was ready to throw on the grill.

Inside, we put a bit of pasta on the stove for the vegetarians in the group. I say a bit, but it was about two pounds of penne. In a separate pan, I put chopped tomatoes, onion, garlic, and let it cook down for a fresh, quick tomato sauce. When the monkfish was getting close to done outside, I hit the sauce with a quick whizz with the burr mixer, and returned it to the pan. We had a container of fresh pesto in the fridge as well, so into the pot it went.

I recalled something about a simple recipe for scallops that we had wanted to try from earlier. With dozens of pans at our disposal, I picked a huge sturdy one and began searing the scallops off in batches. Ten to a pan, three minutes a side, pulled them out, next batch in. After the last batch, I deglazed the pan with an open bottle of white wine from the night before, chopped some parsley, threw it in with some capers, and added a few pats of butter, swirling it until it melted. I let it simmer for a minute, then returned all the scallops to the pan for a quick toss. Back out of the pan, onto one of our rapidly dwindling supply of platters.

The monkfish was ready. I let it rest for a few minutes, and then sliced into it. I tried it. So spicy. No worries. Along with the pickled onions, we had a chipotle salsa that I had made a few days before, and with a bit of sour cream, it turned into an accompanying sauce that was still a bit spicy, but just cooling enough to control the heat.

The table was set, and as I shucked oysters, everyone else was busy loading up the serving dishes.  As I was running around overseeing a lot of the action while trying to control the fate of two or three pans at once, I quickly tired of shucking. After a dozen, I threw the rest on the grill where they quickly opened.

Finally, we could sit down. Along with some crusty bread that we picked up earlier in the day, the table was packed with all sorts of delicious things to eat. We were tired, hot, sweaty, and didn’t even know where to begin.

Another summer, another vacation in the books. This year, we headed back to the East coast for a tour of Connecticut and Martha’s Vineyard. When we head out there, it’s relaxing, and we get to sit on the patio, pick from the garden, and when we’re on the Vineyard, head to the beach for some sunbasking and baypaddling.

This year on the Vineyard, we were in the same place, up island, away from the tourist crowds. We were travelling with the lady’s parents, were meeting more family at the house, and this year, in addition to the pup they had in tow, we met a family friend at the ferry terminal for the boat ride over. One of the things the boat had going for it, in addition to a great viewing deck up top, was the addition of clam chowder on board. Back in the Midwest, far away from the ocean and any kind of seafood that rivals the freshness of either coast, a good seafood chowder is hard to come by. This one hit the spot, and with the meerschaum spitting over the observation deck and a tallship on the horizon, I got the feeling that it would be a good week.

On the other side of the water, we drove off the ferry through the town of Oak Bluffs, down through the middle of the island, past farms, shops, ponds and town halls, until we hit the far edge of the island. Without the tourist traffic, and with a breeze swirling around the lighthouse tipped point, it was about ten degrees cooler than where we got off the ferry. The car crawled up the dirt driveway to our house, and as we offloaded our gear, we were greeted by a second car with an uncle and aunt.

We spent our time that evening sitting on the deck, watching the sailboats cruise by the beach. We ate some Long Island pizza, trucked up by the doting uncle, and relaxed with a nice walk along the beach as the low slung sun beamed onto the red clay cliffs abutting the shoreline.

Even though it was technically vacation, I’d wake up early with the coffee, and make something for breakfast. The first morning, I decided to use some fresh eggs we had purchased at the general store back in Connecticut the previous day. They had just come in from Ashley’s happy hens down the road, and along with some cheese, fresh tomatoes, and scapes, they turned into a beautiful frittata. Paired with some quick biscuits, fresh fruit and blueberry corn muffins, it was most definitely a good way to start the day.

We spent our first full day on the North Shore of the island, just a few minutes away by car. Tucked away just up the road from where they filmed Jaws, is a secluded beach with a tiny house big enough for two, and under the floorboards of the deck lay three kayaks in waiting. While a few of our party sunned themselves on the beach and patio, an intrepid three, including me, took the kayaks out to the massive sandbar just offshore, where we parked and scavenged for sand dollars.

That night, we motored over to Oak Bluffs, where we enjoyed a dinner at the Red Cat Kitchen, where several of the evening’s menu items are described as “chef’s imaginations of…” It was a new concept in Island dining, but one I’ve seen before, where a talented chef gives you the base of what they’re offering, and utilizes what they have in the kitchen to create a unique plate for a one-off run. This has both its positives and negatives, but especially when tables are filled to capacity every night, it makes perfect sense.

We had a table of seven with two vegetarians. For our non meat eating diners, there was an option on the menu that was described as “Ben’s Vegetarian Showdown”. When I looked up their menu on Facebook, which changes weekly, sometimes close to daily, I mentioned that we’d be bringing in a couple of vegetarian diners. “What can you throw down for a showdown for two hungry vegetarians?” I asked.

The response? “Plenty!”

Fair enough. We sat in a living room with a bar on the ground floor of a two story house in the middle of town, looking out at the bustle through a window filled with glass apothecary bottles. Around the table, we ordered starters of fried local oysters with  banana peppers, a roasted beet salad with goat cheese and celery hearts,  Yukon potato gnocchi with Sun-dried tomatoes and pecorino romano, a tuna tartare, and the signature dish, an Island Fresca-Fresh tomatoes, sweet kernel corn and basil in a corncob broth with shaved parmigiano reggiano and dotted with basil oil.

As the plates made their way around the table, everyone taking a bite, it became clear that there was a comfortable medium between a high class restaurant in, say, Chicago or New York, and a place such as this where the chef has unlimited creative license as well as a built in time cushion where diners, most of them on vacation, are just there to relax. I looked around the table. Everyone was smiling. Over at the bar, the bartender was tapping an unruly glass and shaker against the bar to get it unstuck, but maintained friendly eye contact and a jovial banter with the patrons while not missing a beat. The waiter was hasty, a bit surly, but also good natured on this busy night, and everyone was having a good time. The food, while not earth-shatteringly inventive, was the creation of one kitchen, and it was simple and satisfying.

The entrees came out next. There was a buttermilk fried chicken with Braised Carrots and a Vanilla Jus (weird, but it worked)with wilted spinach, Sea Scallops with sweet corn risotto, a bluefish poached in more of the sweet corn broth, and a giant plate of breaded pork chops for me.

The kicker, though, was the Vegetarian showdown. Normally, I don’t care for vegetarian options at restaurants, but this seemed like a logical solution to everything. Each person who ordered it received a small side salad, a dish of sweet corn risotto, some tempura green beans, and a few other roasted vegetables. Four or five tiny plates came out, all offering a variety of differently prepared vegetarian offerings, leaving everyone full, happy, and satisfied that what they received wasn’t a tired old piece of quiche that was kept in the freezer for the lone person who didn’t eat meat.

For dessert, even after our gigantic portions, we figured we could split a few between our table. The offerings, while standard, were done well. We had a molten chocolate mug cake and a bananas foster dish, but the hit was a panna cotta with basil oil and a fresh huckleberry compote on top. It’s the little surprises that make these dinners such pleasant experiences. I’d love to go back.

Read a new blog this morning (DocSconz: Musings on Food and Life) about a father and son traipsing through Italy on a quest for food and family. My last trip to Italy was about ten years ago, but it’s still vivid in my mind as something that greatly affected how I view the way food should be.

During the stay, we travelled around the northern part of Italy, using Turin, home of Martini + Rossi and Chocolate, as our homebase. We took side trips to the Slow Food Conference (Salone del Gusto), where we found ourselves among tables of old vine wines, heirloom vegetables, crates of salted bottarga, mustards, cheeses, vinegars, and every kind of chef representative you could imagine, hired to showcase that product. Travelling halfway around the world to visit and soak everything in, we were outsiders, but we made small talk the best a handful of Midwestern boys could do.

“You guys are from Scotland, are you?”

“Aye. That we are.”

“That’s some fine beer you have.”

“Thank you very much. Where are you from?”


“Oh, we were just there last week, at your Capital Brewer’s.”

“No way. Do you know the brewmaster, Kirby?”

“Ah, that’s a good guy for you right there.”

And the connection was made. From that point out, we just shot the breeze as a few guys getting together who really enjoyed beer and talking shop.

We met some guys who made Danzy Jones Wysgi Mustard. We asked if they knew of our world famous Mustard Museum,  just down the street from Madison in nearby Mount Horeb, Wisconsin at the time.

They did. The bottle of mustard I dipped from in Italy was one of 3,000 different mustards on display not 10 miles from my point of departure. Some of the artisanal products we saw were available right down the street, albeit in small quantities.

Still, there was yet another layer of products that we sampled that simply wouldn’t taste the same any place outside where they were made. There were cheeses, salumi, and vinegars that we tried that were simply out of this world, but would never survive the journey to American shelves. I only have the memory of them to keep me comforted. I’ve tried the Taleggio here, and the Tomini, and the Stracchino, and although they’re good, nothing compares to what you can get from the source.

The most mysterious cheese, the one that I will never taste in its true form outside of Italy, is Castelmagno. Often a combination of sheep and cow’s milk, its texture is a result of milling the curds during the process, and the result is a barely sliceable, often crumbly nutty cheese with added depth from a molded rind. When I was cooking in the Piemonte region, it was most often used with the Northern Italian staple of gnocchi alla fonduta, as it melted so fine in a saucepan. Sometimes, I miss being able to try it again, but I realize that if I ever saw it in a shop here, it simply wouldn’t be the same. It’s like a good loaf of sourdough-it just doesn’t travel.



Aside from our excursion to the Salone del Gusto, we took day trips to Modena, where we visited the Malpighi House of Balsamic production. I’d call it a plantation, as it had the most beautiful painted frescos in the main house set back from the road behind row upon row of grape vines. We went through the entire process, from how they harvest the grapes, to the crush, past the boiling of the maceration to the slow aging and evaporation of the moisture from the liquid. In the attic of the main house sat row upon row of charred black barrels with a single white napkin covering a small hole at the top. Every year, as the traditionally aged balsamic vinegar reduces by 10%, they rotate it into progressively smaller barrels until they are ready to bottle. At twelve years, the finest balsamic is bottled into tiny receptacles, having reduced to a sugary syrup. For those who have the bottle of balsamic at home, the taste of a traditionally aged, rigorously controlled Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena is sweeter and more floral than even a reduced bottle of store-bought. Most commonly, it is used as an accent, or with fresh fruit or cheese.

The Attic at Malpighi


Since my visit was so long ago, most of the balsamic vinegar bottled that year is long gone. I know for a fact that half a bottle lives on in my mother’s cupboard at home, still sweet and used ever so sparingly, a drop at a time. However, what was left to further reduce to a 25 year vinegar should be ready about now, and I can only imagine how sweet it would taste.