Nov 16, 2018

My 10 favorite cheese shops in Rome

"There is a reciprocal relationship between cheese and its customer: every cheese waits for its client, poses in a way to attract it, with attitude and haughty grain, or on the contrary dissolving into surrendering abandon" 
In his novel Palomar, Italo Calvino describes the subtle relationship (and slight exhilaration) of finding oneself in front of an overflowing cheese counter in a Parisian cheese shop.

That same embarrassment of riches is how I feel when, disoriented, I make my way to the front of the shop and peer in the overflowing cheese display. Not only am I tugged in several directions––torn between a soft-ripened bloomy rind robiola and a voluptuous and nutty Alpine toma––I am also reminded with every bite, that cheese is the result of dedication, hard work, passion and love.

Behind each cheese there are in fact OGM-free cereals, rolling pastures, fragrant meadows, green grass and transhumance, and also sets of sturdy (and often heat-chapped) hands, obstinance and secrets handed down over the centuries, superstition, patience, tradition, prayer and for many, livelihood.

Rome has its fair share of cheese shops. The ones listed below are some of the usual places where I normally am found, lost in contemplation, tasting slices carved from old classics, or discovering new incredible products.

I like to linger and chat with the cheesemonger, ask about where the cheese was made, who the people behind each wheel are, what wine pairs well with the cheese, what bread pairs well with the cheese... The conversation often goes on for hours. I know you understand.

Here are my 10 favorite cheese shops in Rome.

Conciato di Rebibbia at ProLoco Dol

ProLoco DOL
In the Centocelle suburb, Vincenzo Mancino and his "family" of loyal Lazio food purveyors operate in the number one location for regional culinary specialties. Cheese occupies large portion of the offer, with stars like rare Caciofiore whose curds are made with soaked thistle, soft Cacio Magno, or the herb-rubbed Conciato produced by the female inmates of the Rebibbia prison. There's also a wide selection of cave-aged pecorinos, caciocavallo and buffalo cheese produced in the nearby Pontina marshland. Cured meats and cheeses can be enjoyed seated along with house pizza in teglia and a handful of succulent entrees. Reservations recommended. especially on the weekend.

Alpine cheeses at La Tradizione

La Tradizione
Owned by Roberto and Stefano and a passionate team of cheese lovers, the shop boasts one of Rome's widest cheese selections. The display case (and the caveau downstairs) conceal a vast assortment of cured meats and more than 400 kinds of cheese from Italy and abroad. Barrel-matured and cave-aged Caciocavallo, ricotta Seirass, plus Cheddar and Stilton. There's a special display reserved for only for blues, gorgonzolas and roqueforts. Shelves of goat milk cheeses, caciocavallo, taleggio, Sicilian ragusano, and the unique Conciato Romano of the Le Campestre farm that's aged with herbs, spices and wine in special terracotta anforae. All the extravagant shopping here is paper-wrapped with a ribbon and handed over with a smile.

Bloomy goat cheeses at Beppe e i Suoi Formaggi

Beppe e i Suoi Formaggi
Beppe Giovale comes from a family of cheesemakers who produce, age and cure cheeses made with the milk of their own goats, cows and sheep. The spacious shop located in the Jewish Quarter sells mostly Piemonte and French raw milk regional cheeses sourced exclusively from free-range, pasteur-raised cattle farms. The cheeses can be both purchased or enjoyed at one of the tables in the back, along with a glass of wine, whole-grain breads, terrines, extra virgin olive oil, edible flowers, nuts, pomegranate berries and fruit jellies. Reservations recommended at peak aperitivo time (6-8pm).

The blue cheese display at La Formaggeria di Francesco Loreti

La Formaggeria di Francesco Loreti
At stall number 26 of Mercato Latino in Piazza Epiro, Francesco and Donatella carve wedges out of toothsome wheels, handing them with a smile to awe-struck customers. Conversation is followed by a glass of wine and more cheese. This is totally normal here, transactions come later. The stall sells only artisanal products sourced at small creameries and family-run dairy farms, and not usually found at farmer's markets. The goal is removing from our daily food shopping cart items commonly available in big chain grocery stores, providing instead valid, high quality alternatives, sold at totally democratic prices. The market is open Mon-Sat, 6:30am-3:00pm.

The glorious stinkers sold at Salumeria Roscioli

Salumeria Roscioli
Bread and cheese go hand in hand. It's no surprise then that Rome's leading baker should naturally expand its offer to include bread-loving foods like prime cured meats and stellar cheese. The manic selection of quality products is in the hands of brothers Alessandro and Pierluigi Roscioli. Gracing displays are soft discs of robiola, bloomed and washed rind cheeses, moldy blues like rare White Stilton Gold, made in only 6 creameries and containing actual flecks of gold. There's more: think rare Bitto, elastic pecorinos, or Caciocavallo Podolico made in Puglia between May and June with the milk of an endangered cow breed. Reservations mandatory.

Signor Roberto and Signora Anna at Antica Caciara Trasteverina

Antica Caciara Trasteverina
The smile on Signor Roberto and his wife Anna's face lights up with every customer that walks in the door of this historical Trastevere cheese shop. This is where Romans come for authentic Pecorino Romano DOP (made by Fulvi with Lazio milk) and sheep ricotta sourced at sustainable creameries. Other delights include oven-baked ricotta, formaggio di fossa (cheese matured in sealed 6-ft deep tufa stone pits), toma del Piemonte, variably aged regional cheeses, plus Norcia cured meats like guanciale, corallina, coglioni di mulo and other goofy-named local salumi.

Antipasto situation at Salsamenteria

Roberto Mangione runs a small deli (salsamenteria, in old Italian) and you'd be content just purchasing silken slices of prosciutto San Daniele or a precious sliver of gooey Gorgonzola, but you'd be missing out on Rome's best kept secret. After the sun goes down, Roberto pours the bubbly and serves fine cheeses and top cured meats with impromptu seating on foldable chairs and tables opposite the display cases. I come for the refined culinary delights like beer-flavored Ottavio cheese produced at Fattorie Fiandino, or Alpine Beaufort. All paired with Roberto's elegant selection of Champagne (200+ labels), Italian and French wines, craft beers and liqueurs. Given venue size, call ahead to let Roberto know you'll be stopping by.

All the French cheeses at Va Sano

Va Sano
After moving to Rome from their native Paris, David and Laurène travel back to France regularly to source their high quality French products. Think creamy Camembert Fermier, or delightful Comté aged 24 or 36 months, wines from Bordeaux, Bourgogne, Alsace, Languedoc and the Southwestern wine regions, plus spectacular Champagnes. In addition to the gorgeous cheese and wine selection, accoutrements include foie gras and macarons, croissants, pain au chocolat, pain d'épice and gourmet jams. Wine and cheese tastings are held weekly.

The window display at Casa dei Latticini in Rome

Casa dei Latticini
Family-run since 1898 – not a typo – Antonio Micocci's treasure trove of all things moldy, funky and crumbly continues the family tradition: providing the elegant Sallustiano neighborhood residents with top-notch cheese and dairy. Shelves are chock-full with 500 different types of Italian cheese and some French highlights. The selection of toma piemontese wheels is staggering, and the delicious mozzarella di bufala is delivered twice a day from Paestum (Barlotti, Vannulo, etc). The staff always has a small selection of tastings out on the counter for walk-in clients and devoted aficionados.

Roberto Liberati in his historical butcher shop in Rome

Bottega Liberati
Take the orange A metro line and get off at Giulio Agricola. The 1960s historically acclaimed Liberati butcher shop is now in the hands of Roberto. Sold in addition prime Maremmana, Piemontese, Chianina, Charolais and Bue Grasso di Carrù beef cuts are select herbs, bottled sauces, jarred legumes and bronze-extruded pastas. Romans also flock here for Liberati's phenomenal cheese selection. Prime quality products hail from high altitude pastures and grass fed cattle. I can't last too long without goat's milk robiola Le Ramate, Cau & Spada cheeses, and his sublime burrata. Bottega Liberati is furthermore the only place south of the Alps where I can find the delightful Eggemoa cheeses.


Nov 7, 2018

Vellutata recipes

With the first chill of November, heaters are turned on in Italian apratment buildings, and soups are brewed all over the boot-shaped peninsula. My favorite kind of soup is vellutata.

Vellutata is one of those perfect Italian words.

noun, fem. 

Gastronomic term – Vegetable puree combined with heavy cream, starchy legumes or egg yolks rendering a creamy, and––as the name implies––velvety consistency.

Growing up, my son––who loyal readers of this blog know as Mr E––loved vegetables. He's always been daring and tried all the food I presented him, regardless what color it was. His kindergarten, and then later grade school peers, did not eat anything green.

vellutata - velvety vegetable soup

Then at around 6, he started pushing away the bowl of minestrone. My industrious mother, who may have pulled this trick with me too at some point in my growing up, started pureeing soups with an immersion blender and serving them to him as velouté. That silly exotic word (with an actual completely different meaning) has remained in our family lexicon. We actually normally refer to vellutata as velouté.

vellutata - velvety vegetable soup

The most popular velouté in our household is one made with zucca (pumpkin) given the abundance of it in markets and on autumn tables. But this creamy soup can be made year round with a wide range of other seasonal crops. During summer, vellutata is a bounty of zucchini, peas, asparagus, peppers, etc. Now I'm going crazy with broccoli, cauliflower, potatoes, leeks, carrots, squash, leafy greens and apples, even. It's the trickiest way of serving children a whole lot of vegetables, shielded behind a voluptuous texture and a mysterious name.

I like to mix my vellutata soups up with other kinds of vegetables and spices, topping them with croutons, toasted nuts and seeds, sautéed mushroom, fried onions or crispy pancetta. 

vellutata - velvety vegetable soup

The beauty of this dish is that it can virtually be made with what's available in the fridge that day. Take vellutata di patate e porri, for example: this creamy leek and potato soup is made soft and creamy by adding a boiled potato to gently simmering leeks. The potato gives the mixture a rich, velvety texture. More thickening helpers for your vellutata can be chickpeas, lentils, a spoonful of flour, egg yolks, aquafaba, beans, ricotta, cooked chestnuts... you name it.

If I can, I'll avoid using heavy cream as the liquid element in my vellutata. A trick is swapping it with coconut milk, bone broth, yogurt or sour cream.

zucca mantovana for vellutata soup

The first vellutata of the season I made this year was with roasted zucca mantovana, which is a sensational candy-sweet pumpkin. I pureed it with turmeric, coconut milk and canned chickpeas for thickness. It was to die for. 

After a particularly rainy rugby training last week, my son and I came home under a torriential downpour craving something warm and comforting. I blended together steamed cauliflower, a can of cannellini beans, a pinch of curry and used vegetable broth I had made in advance and froze in an ice cube tray. I topped our steaming bowls with toasted almonds and we ate on the sofa under a pile of fleece blankets while binge-watching Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat on Netflix.

I recently received wonderful porcini mushrooms from my neighbor's campagna. I immediately made vellutata di porcini, or velouté rather. I made it gluten-free so my little sister could have some too in case she decided to stop in for dinner after work.

vellutata - velvety vegetable soup

300 g wild porcini mushrooms
1 white onion, minced
Extra virgin olive oil
Fresh sage
500 ml (17 fl oz) vegetable broth
50 g (1/4 cup) rice flour
400 ml (13 fl oz) whole milk, chilled

Clean the mushrooms by scraping the stems and leaing the caps on, then shave them using a mandoline. Save a couple for garnish.

Sauté the chopped onion with 3 Tbsp. olive oil and a clove of garlic. Add a sprig of sage and the shaved porcini. 

When just lightly wilted, add all the broth. Season with salt and pepper to taste and gently simmer over moderate heat for about 6 minutes. 

In the meantime, work on the thickener: in a plate and using a wire whisk, mix the rice flour with the cold milk, then pour the obtained mixture into the mushroom soup. 

Cook covered for about 15 minutes, remove the sage sprig and pour in a blender to puree until creamy. Add more broth if it's too thick.

Heat the soup briefly, then serve garnished with raw porcini slices and one last turn of the peppermill.

Buon appetito!

Nov 1, 2018

Abruzzo featured on AmexEssentials Weekend Guide

When American Express Essentials magazine approached me to write about a lesser known place in Italy, capturing the spirit of the region with tips that would appeal to a wide range of interests, I happily suggested featuring Abruzzo, a place I hold very dear in my heart.

@EleonoraBaldwin Abruzzo

I've mentioned Abruzzo in many posts on this blog. 
I shared a photo essay on my first (of many) weekend escape to Abruzzo

@EleonoraBaldwin Abruzzo

I shared an account of the chilling night of the earthquake

I added a 2009 diary from set entry; 

@EleonoraBaldwin Abruzzo

©EleonoraBaldwin Abruzzo

I have gone on and on, waxing poetic and how to make arrosticini

I shared my discovery of vino cotto, cooked wine must.

©EleonoraBaldwin Abruzzo

Abruzzo is where I discovered that size does not matter. Where I celebrate all my birthdays. The place where my son and I unplug and spend long moments hypnotized by the crackling fireplace, enjoying the silence and restoring importance to the little things. Abruzzo is the place where I have met some of my dearest friends. 

It's a special place, and I was happy to "give back" and show gratitude for all that it has given me, by mentioning some of my favorite things about it in a widely read magazine.

The link to the article is here: Weekend Getaway Guide: Abruzzo, Italy

I hope you enjoy reading it.

American Express Essentials Weekend Getaway Guide: Abruzzo, Italy