Breaking the Rules: A Buttafuoco Story
Friday, 14 January 2011
I have decided to take it waaaaaaaaay slowly. Settle in, get my dog adjusted to the rustic mountain pace in Tuscany’s Lunigiana region. Having dragged two 70 lb. suitcases, a dog in a carry-on, cameras, computers, drives, and a handbag through LAX, JFK, Malpensa, all around Milan, and then on a three hour-train ride to Pontremoli… I’m afraid to dive too, too deeply into a local specialty cheese abyss this early on. There are three glorious months ahead, so I decided to go first with taking inventory: have an eyeball overview at the grocery store and marvel at the differences between these and the ones back home. I had a small list of personal needs for the apartment, naturally, so I kept focused on the bare essentials, but for only three cheese/wine/antipasto items to start. I took only what absolutely refused to let me walk away. But I must admit, I broke the rules, choosing based on packaging and a pop culture reference. In due time I will become more selective after acquiring a knowledge base, but today was all about fun impulse shopping.
The first thing I could not turn from, nor even my head for that matter, was a particular wine. American I, slightly influenced by sensationalism and unavoidably media-raised, was frozen in place at first sight. A red table wine called Buttafuoco. I kid you not. If you are not old enough to remember the name in the media, Google it, but with the name Joey in front of it. I had to chuckle while taking my first sip, for my last memory of that story was when the Joey decided to give Hollywood a try and landed a job as a bouncer at the Rainbow Bar and Grill on Sunset. Americans respond to icons, and this was no exception. I bought wine today based on a name in American media, of likely no relation (or very distant at the least,) from a dark event that took place in my early adult life. But you know what? It was very good. Young, indeed, as are most local farm wines, but quite complex in spite of its youth. It was light in body but well developed in its notes of mild pepper and earth fruits.
Next came a cheese to pair with it. Since I knew nothing of Buttafuoco, it somehow made sense to pair it with something equally as random, since I am starting from scratch with Italian wines and access to all European cheeses without a proper tour guide. The world is mine, and I am at liberty to buy a large brick of Aggenstein Emmentaler (Swiss) cheese labeled with a picture of a Traditional Swiss mountain man blowing playing his Alpenhorn, if I want to. So I did. A creamy Swiss with an ever-so-slight sour underplay, it paired brilliantly with the youth of the wine, softening its sharp edge. After about half an hour of airing, the wine calmed down to pair even more intimately with the cheese, both coming together in a mild marriage. It was slightly on the pedestrian side, but there is never a bad time for a comfort food, and this really hit the spot.
And now, the salame. How could I know which salame to choose on my own? I couldn’t possibly, so again, I went for the label, and found a face I could trust: A mustachioed man in a top hat stared me down from the paper-wrapped portion, so I gave it a go. Salame Felino from Parma, de Casa Verdi was inside, blunt end cut at an angle before shrink-wrapping. The verdict? Delicious, and with just enough grease to keep you coming back for one more slice, the kind of fat that “doesn’t count” when you are out of your own country. Three slices later, my opinion hadn’t changed and I forced the remainder into a baggie and closed the fridge for the night.
So, the moral of tonight’s story is that although the rule is not to shop based on the appearance of a label, or even marketing power, there are exceptions. I don’t know if there is a very plain, unappetizing choice I could have made, or if by virtue of tradition and culture there are no poor choices that could survive the marketplace, but I’m thinking there isn’t much, if any, bad food here. I could be wrong, but I doubt it.