On Tuesday, November 2nd, 72 lucky guests heard Rodrigo Redmont, the winemaker for Talamonti and Rubino wines, speak about his wines at Branches’ Southern Italian Dinner hosted by Barbara Longue of Cotes de Longue and John Lombardo of Branches Catering.
The evening began with flutes of Drusian Prosecco Brut—a rich, beautiful Valdobbiadene Prosecco with fine, tiny bubbles. This Prosecco aroma has a toastiness with generous notes of peach, apricot, almond and crushed stone. It has a thicker, creamier consistency offers up lingering fresh orchard fruits: green apple, peaches, pears, citrus, and fresh vegetables accompanied by a pleasing note of bread on the medium crisp and dry finish. This little gem was served with a selection of Italian Cheeses from “Cheese on Main” in Ocean Grove.
Cheese on Main’s owner Susan Morris says her tiny shop on Main Avenue in in Ocean Grove is only 9 feet wide, but it’s stocked with 200 lovely cheeses from the far corners of the earth. On Tuesday she was serving five Italian cheeses.
The first cheese was a Rocchetta from the Piedmont region of Italy. It was a lovely and creamy robiola combining the flavors of goat’s, cow’s and sheep’s milk into a harmonious balance of flavor. Dense, semi-soft and smooth in texture, Rocchetta is a very approachable and decadent cheese. Paired with the Prosecco it was delicious. This particular cheese has an affinity for a full range of wines and makes an excellent pairing partner;especially with wines from Piedmont, such as Dolcetto, Barbera or Barolo. One piece weighs approximately 9 ounces and costs around $14.50.
Next was Pecorino Tartufo, this is an an old style of Umbrian pressed sheep’s milk cheese. The cheese flavor is unique because the buttery nutty flavor is enhanced by the addition of aromatic black truffles. Susan explained the cheese has a long shelf life, but cautioned that it could become “addictive” and is usually consumed rather quickly. If the reaction by the guests was any indicator, she was right. Not only did it make a festive pairing with Prosecco, it can be a versatile partner for many wines, from tart light whites to the bigger jammy reds. She offers this cheese for $13 per half pound.
The third cheese, Gorgonzola Dolcé from Lombardy, was gooey, creamy, soft, and almost spreadable in texture. Gorgonzola Dolcé is made from pasteurized cow’s milk, then aged for 3 months and is considered the sweeter gorgonzola. It was very creamy, milder and much softer than its Natuale or Piccante counterparts and pleasantly pungent. At $9.50 per half pound it was exquisite with the Prosecco.
From Sardegna came an ivory, hard, goat’s milk cheese: Pantaleo. This was full-flavored treat with a remarkably lemony flavor that morphed into a rich, butternutty flavor. It has the familiar herbal and white pepper flavors of a goat cheese, but with a slightly lighter finish that it almost doesn’t taste like goat cheese. It would be perfect shaved over warm vegetables or paired with a drizzling of light honey. $9.50 /half pound.
The last cheese was a match made in heaven with the Drusian Prosecco: a dark rind Artisinal Ubriacco Prosecco. Ubriacco Prosecco means “big fat drunk” in Italian. Ubriacco is a raw cow’s milk cheese from the Veneto region, the same region where the Prosecco grape grows. During the maturing prcess it is covered by Prosecco grape must (skins) and washed with Prosecco, giving the cheese the sweet, delicate wine aroma and complex finish. Susan said this cheese is perfect during autumn months while its flavor is fresh, uplifting, and subtle. It can pair nicely with Pinot Noir or Moscato as well. $15.50/half pound.
Then it was to the dining room and first course of Escarole and Beans, Peasant Style. The balanced flavors of the escarole and beans in this soup topped with a little parmesan cheese were delightfully mellow and made all the more delicious by the Talamonti Trebbiano d’Abruzzo v. 2009. The light and bright flavors of apples and peaches in this traditional white Trebbiano brought out the fresh vegetable nuances of the soup. It was a satisfying pairing and perfect for a cool November day’s meal.
We had just finished the very last drop of Trebbiano and discreetly licking our bowl when scents of Bolognese sauce filled the air and the empty soup bowls were replaced with plates of heavenly Radiatore Pasta with Lamb Bolognese. As the guests dug into the plates of pasta, servers poured Talamonti Modá Montepulciano d’Abruzzo v. 2008, a medium-bodied red that stood up nicely to the lamb flavors and blended seamlessly with the Bolognese sauce. Montepulciano wines tend to be softer and more accessible than Chianti or Nebbiolo with their cherry, plum, and rasberry aromas/flavors—and this intensely fruity Montepulciano d’Abruzzo was a soft wine, with just a hint of acidity and tannins that make it hard to miss with pastas and red sauce or almost anything else at the dinner table.
Now we were definitely becoming full, cheese, soup, pasta and another course to come. Could we do it? Yes, the next course was Osso Bucco, cross-cut veal shanks braised with vegetables, white wine and broth served with polenta. How could we resist? The veal was perfect and the polenta light and creamy, talk about comfort food, this was yummy. For this course, guests were treated to two different wines. The first, a purple Talamonti Tres Saggi Montepulciano d’Abruzzo v. 2008 was a rich Montepulciano blend. The addition of 30% Merlot provided weight and some complex notes of berry, cherry, blueberry, coffee, vanilla and elegant oak. It was a seamless pairing.
The second wine was Rubino Punta Aquila v. 2007 a Primitivo. The violet reflections of this deep red wine were complemented by an intense bouquet and spicy aroma that followed through to the palate. When tasted on its own, one table mate commented it seemed too big and that it would overpower the dish,she claimed she didn’t like it. Yet when she heded the advice of the winemaker and when sipped with the polenta and a bite of osso bucco, she found the boldness was tempered and the tannins smoothed to a delightful finish. Then this full-bodied wine conveyed a velvety warmth of home. It was incredible and a nice change from the “usual Cabernet”.
We barely had room for the dessert, Zeppole laced with Winter Pears and drizzled with Sabayon. This was paired with Angioletta Moscato, a slightly effervescent Moscato with flavors of peach, apricot, and a touch of honey, this dessert was aperfect ending to a perfect meal.
All of the cheeses are available at Cheese on Main, 53 Main Avenue, Ocean Grove, NJ 07756, Phone: (732) 775-1530. Sadly, she doesn’t yet have a web site but you can phone or visit her for cheese advice.